Angel Stanley was working on her nursing degree when she fell in love at first sight with a young Army lieutenant named Matthew McCollum.
Well, I came home from my first date with Matt, and I told my parents, "I've met the man I'm going to marry," and I think my mother just about passed out. Because I had never wanted to get married, never wanted children; I was kind of a career-oriented girl.
He was in the military. He is three years older than I am. So he was a lieutenant, and he had just been stationed at Fort Jackson after a tour in Korea.
And I knew nothing about what I was getting into. I can tell you for certain I had no idea. When he asked me out on our first date, I said, "Oh my gosh, are you going to be in uniform?" I didn't know, and I had never been around military personnel, and I wasn't sure -- I had no idea what I was getting into.
Complete culture shock. [Laughs] I remember the first time he said, "Honey, I'm going to the field." And I said, "Well, honey, dinner will be ready at 5:30, so be back by then." And he just giggled a little and said, "No, no, honey, I'll be gone for a couple weeks." And I was like, "What? Where will you sleep? In a tent on the ground? What?" It was just complete culture shock.
In 2008, Matthew McCollum was deployed to Afghanistan, where his brother, a Marine, had died earlier in the war.
Remember, his brother had already been killed at war, so I had to send my husband back to the very war that killed his brother. And I went through all of -- we went through all of that with his brother and his widow, and his son that never got to meet him.
So I had that baggage going into it.
But I should tell you I'm not like other women. I have kind of a compartmental personality -- this might help you a little bit more to understand me -- I used to be a trauma ER nurse for five years, so you learn to put on your game face and compartmentalize emotions so you deal with the crisis at hand. So I just basically had to put my work hat on to let him deploy.
And it was extraordinarily difficult but yet, I mean -- I just remember the one conversation that we had before he left, because I didn't really want to talk about it much, because I wasn't willing to go there. But I did say to him -- I looked at him and I said -- and I very rarely call him by his last name, but I do it when I'm serious about something and I want something done. And I said, "McCollum, no medals, and I can't raise these boys alone; so you come home to me." And I said, "That's all I have to say about it." And he winked at me and he said, "I understand; I promise you."
And so I'm very, very grateful he kept his promise to come home safely. He didn't keep his promise about the medals, but he came home safely, which is the most important thing.
Their sons were 5 and 7 years old.
They knew he was going to war. They've had friends that -- fathers had gone to war. They had an uncle who died. I couldn't shelter them as much as I would have liked to, because they already had the life experience of knowing we lost someone at war.
So it was a different thing for me. As innocent as I wanted to keep them, they were fully aware that there was danger in war. So I kept saying, "You know, your Uncle Dan is your daddy's angel, he'll watch over him, I promise."
Before Matthew returned, Angel moved the family to a new base where he was about to be reassigned.
When he was coming back, he was at Fort Hood signing out so he could come home to us, because we were already in the moving process here.
When he was at Fort Hood trying to sign out, I called him one evening and it was like 9:30 or 10 o'clock at night, because I just wanted to say goodnight, you know, tell him we're so glad he's home, that kind of thing. He wasn't there, he didn't answer, and I immediately got panicked; I said, "Oh my goodness, somebody has murdered him in his hotel room, something bad has happened." You know, I just completely -- my anxiety just all came coming down. And I was so upset, and I kept calling and calling, it got to 11 o'clock, and my husband still wasn't there, and I was like, "Something is WRONG."
I was just on the verge -- because my husband's such a family man, you know, we're in bed by 9:30, 10 o'clock, we're not late-night owls, we're just not that way -- I was completely panicked. And by 11:30 I was ready to call the front desk to have them key into his room to make sure he wasn't dead, because I was scared to death.
I get this call, and it's from Matt, and he goes, "Hey, were you trying to call me?" And I was like, "WHERE have you been?" And he goes, "Oh, I was just out." I said, "What do you mean, you were out?" I said, "This is not the time for a married man to be out!" I was like, "What are you doing?" And I was so mad, and you could hear all the anxiousness in my voice and everything else. And he said, "You are completely overreacting." And I said, "You know what? I'll talk to you when I calm down. I'm not ready to talk to you right now." So I hung up the phone, I got myself together and I called back him back, and I said, "OK, Matt, I just have a couple things to say to you."