This weekend, I will take a trip back in time -- sort of. I will fly to New Bern, NC, a quaint and charming Southern town. The tea is sweet and the people are sweeter. It is easy to see the appeal.
I am traveling to New Bern for a movie premiere of The Lucky One, the newest romantic movie based on the bestselling novel by Nicholas Sparks. The movie follows the story of a Marine returning from Iraq. He believes that he is alive due to a woman he has never met. He finds her, takes a job with her family's business and a romance begins. Sparks is a master storyteller and I have no doubt that I will be crying in the theatre.
The premiere is part of Sparks's Celebrity Family Weekend to raise funds for his Nicholas Sparks Foundation and my organization is one of the beneficiaries. As part of his commitment to the military, several service members have been invited to attend with their spouses.
So today, I share another love story. My storytelling skills are not as great as Sparks', but my story shares some of the same elements. This love story also began in North Carolina. The hero is a Marine, and his heroine is blonde and beautiful.
Samantha met Mark when she was still in high school and working part time at her local Dairy Queen. They immediately began dating and five years later, on April 16, 2009, the couple married.
Being young, the couple did not have a lot of money. And since Mark was a Marine with multiple deployments, they did not have a lot of time either. They agreed that they would save for the perfect honeymoon -- a guided hunting trip.
Both Samantha and Mark loved hunting. Relaxing and enjoying nature made the outdoor sport perfect for the young couple. Hunting was their favorite activity.
On June 16, 2011, Mark died from injuries sustained from an IED in Afghanistan 13 days prior. It was his fifth overseas deployment.
Samantha made a promise. She would still go on that honeymoon to honor Mark. She would hunt in his memory.
Two weeks ago, just a few days before her third wedding anniversary, Samantha joined other military spouses for a turkey-hunting trip to Florida. Although my organization has hosted countless service members on hunting trips through our outdoor adventures program, this was the first trip that focused on our spouses. All of the women loved it.
For Samantha, the trip meant so much more than just hunting.
"I promised myself that no matter how long it took, I would go on my honeymoon. I am so thankful... It has given me a sense of accomplishment and a sense of closure."
It is important to share one last detail. Each woman on the trip was successful and brought home a turkey. Samantha did better.
"I am the only one that got two turkeys -- one for me and one for Mark."
Happy Anniversary Samantha. Mark would have been so proud.