Young widow's pain hasn't healed despite passage of time




Posted on May 20, 2014 at 10:42 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 20 at 11:17 PM

A terrorist's truck bomb took Marie Campbell's husband from her in 1996. She has learned to live with the grief, but admits it never goes away.

"That was our family at one time," she said, pointing to a photo of a smiling couple with a dog outside military housing at an air base.

There are times when it feels like that photo was taken just a few days ago. And there are other times when it feels like it was a century ago.

"Probably that knock on the door was the most painful moment of my life," Campbell said, remembering what happened in June 1996.

Her husband, Air Force Staff Sgt. Dee Campbell, a native Texan, had deployed to Saudi Arabia. He was living at a military complex called the Khobar Towers. On June 25, terrorists attacked the towers, setting of a huge truck bomb.

Campbell and 18 other U.S. airmen died. He was just 30 years old. So was his wife.

"I was broken. I didn't know young widows. Widows were gray-haired women," Campbell said. "I just didn't know."

She describes herself as a stubborn, kicking-and-screaming young widow who didn't think she needed help.

But help found her.

"I didn't want to be taken care of; I wanted to look after everyone else. But then, as a year or two went on, the numbness started to fade. And depression started to set in," Cammpbell admitted. "One day, something came in the mail about a seminar, and I was headed to the trash can to throw it away and I just stopped and I said, 'Maybe I'll just try.'"

The flier that came in the mail was from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). She went to a Memorial Day weekend seminar that showed she was not alone.

"And when I sat in there and listened to others, I knew I wasn't crazy, and that what I was feeling was that new kind of normal," she said.

Marie Campbell hasn't missed a seminar since.

She now works for TAPS full time, coordinating a team of more than 400 runners who run to raise money for TAPS. Carry the Load raises money for it, too.

She said Carry the Load's mission is "very personal."

Campbell was at the start of the 2014 Carry The Load relay as they began walking from West Point in New York to Dallas for the Memorial Day weekend march. She walked with them in New York and also in Washington, D.C.

"They are remembering the life, instead of so much the death. It's what they brought to us," she said.

Most of Dee Campbell's comrades called him "Soup," a nickname given to him because of his last name.

"His country was important to him," his widow said. "He was everybody's friend. He was quiet. He was mild-mannered. He loved his job in the Air Force. And he was a huge, huge Dallas Cowboys fan."

Dee Campbell grew up in Angleton, Texas. He was based in Florida when he was killed. Marie stayed in Florida for a couple of years, but moved to Arlington in 1998, to get away from some of the haunting memories.

Now she's moving to Washington as she continues her full-time work with TAPS.

In the years after Dee died, Marie began running to work through some of her grief. With the encouragement of another widow, she ran the Marine Corps Marathon to raise money for TAPS. She has since finished nine marathons and countless other fundraising runs.

"His birthday is the hardest day of the year for me now," Campbell said. "But this year I'm running the Air Force half-marathon and it happens to fall on his birthday, so that's kind of fitting."

Eighteen years of grief have followed her nine years of marriage. Time has passed. Pain hasn't. And looking over old photos, Campbell admitted it never will.

"It doesn't make me sad to look at them. It makes me happy. Do I have dark days? Yes. Do I have moments? Yes. But when I have those moments, I just embrace them, because it validates that the time in my life was real."