A Young Widow of the Iraq War

Katrina Gionet is a 19-year-old widow whose husband, Army Spc. Daniel Gionet, was killed recently in Iraq. Dan Gorenstein of New Hampshire Public Radio spoke shares her story.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Army specialist Daniel Gionet(ph) was buried in Pelham, New Hampshire earlier this month. He was killed after a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle in Iraq. The 23-year-old left behind a 19-year-old wife, now widow. Katrina Gionet tells the story of how they met and fell in love. New Hampshire Public Radio's Dan Gorenstein prepared this report.

Ms. KATRINA GIONET (Widow): So I see this short kid walking out and I'm like laughing at him, he looked kind of goofy.

DAN GORENSTEIN reporting:

She teased him about his height. She teased him about his ears. She teased the 22-year-old about his receding hairline. She teased him about his ears. She teased the 22-year-old about his receding hairline.

Ms. GIONET: I don't know, and I think that he thought I was really, like, a really big bitch. I was teasing him because I thought he was looking cute, and I was probably just flirting.

GORENSTEIN: The two shared a quick kiss back at Dan's Army barracks where he covertly programmed his number into her cell phone.

Ms. GIONET: I thought that was so cute because all guys want to do is, like, get your number. When you go out and meet a guy, they're like, Oh, can I have your number? And they try all night long.

GORENSTEIN: She called him the next day. They spent hours together getting to know each other. Within a few weeks, the two began making jokes about getting married someday. They knew they had found something special.

Ms. GIONET: We could have fun doing anything. Like one time, I remember, we had nothing to do. We were hanging out, it was so boring, and then we just ended up sitting there naked, throwing popcorn at each other's mouths, you know, and it was so much fun. When he finally did propose to me, it wasn't really finally, it was in May of 2005, so this is four months after we met.

GORENSTEIN: A few days later, the Army transferred Dan to a base in Texas. Katrina says that's when they got nervous. Any time you switch into a new unit, she says, it could be a unit that's about to head off to Iraq.

Ms. GIONET: When he called me to tell me that he was going to Iraq, I cried so hard. Then we started talking about getting married and if we wanted to do it before, and I really didn't want to. I really wanted to wait and have like a huge wedding and do it all right, but he just told me that he really wanted to marry me. He's like, I don't care how it is, where it is, who's there. I just want to marry you and that's it.

GORENSTEIN: About ten months after Dan and Katrina had shared that first kiss at Fort Drum in New York, they were married. A week later, Katrina and her grandmother drove Dan to the airport.

Ms. GIONET: He said that he wasn't scared at all, so I shouldn't be scared for him, and he's like, this is so hard right now, but when it's all over, it'll all be worth it. He gave me a million kisses all over my face, and he said that those should be enough kisses to tide you over while I'm gone, until I see you again in June. The whole time he was over there, he just told me and his family, all of his friends, that he was so safe, not to worry, and he promised he'd come home.

GORENSTEIN: Despite her husband's pledge, Katrina worried.

Ms. GIONET: I was freaking out because every time any car, like, came near my house and I wasn't expecting anybody, like I thought it was them. And it finally was. And then, I just - I looked at the man and I said, Is everything okay? He was like, oh, I'm blah-blah-blah from Department of the Army, blah-blah-blah.

GORENSTEIN: The rest of the evening was a blur to Katrina. The next morning she received three cards from Dan. It turned out Dan's furlough had been pushed back a month. She opens up the first one.

Ms. GIONET: My love, I miss you so much, and since I promised I would stack up on kisses, here I go, X-O-X-O-X-O.

GORENSTEIN: She reads the second card.

Ms. GIONET: Here's a sweet special kiss for my love's cute little nose.

(Soundbite of a kiss)

Ms. GIONET: There's a third card that came with these, but I didn't open it, and I'm going to wait to open, I think, because that's the last one I'm ever going to get.

GORENSTEIN: After Dan died, a soldier who had fought with him called the widow. He told her the roadside bomb had wounded Dan and other troops, but he said Dan was the only one with any medical training.

Ms. GIONET: So he was like, he was instructing the guys that weren't hurt at all on, like, how to care for the other guys, like, since he couldn't do anything but, like, lay there. And then, when the real medics got there, he's like, don't worry about me, just work on the other guys. So that's what he told me.

I'm going to stay here for a while with his family. I want him right down the street where I can go any time I want. And we purchased cemetery plots so that, if I want, I can be buried with him. So I told my mother-in-law that I want to be buried with him. That's how I feel right now. I want her to wait until I tell her otherwise.

BRAND: Dan Gorenstein of New Hampshire Public Radio produced that story. And 19-year-old Katrina Gionet plans to transfer to a college near Dan's hometown, where she'll continue pursuing her math degree.

(Soundbite of music)

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