GUY RAZ, HOST:
All week, we've been telling the story of the Darkhorse Battalion. That's a unit that's taken more casualties in Afghanistan than any other Marine unit. Today, we focus on one Marine corporal who didn't make it home and the wife and child he left behind.
Derek Wyatt was shot and killed by an enemy sniper in December, nearly a year ago. His wife, Kait, gave birth to their son the day after she learned of Derek's death. She was a Marine, too. She understood why her husband had served.
And as NPR's Tom Bowman reports, Kait Wyatt is now trying to understand the meaning of his death.
KAIT WYATT: I automatically knew that Derek had passed away.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: It was last year, the morning of December 6th, Kait was up early, making breakfast. The doorbell rang. Kait opened the door and saw two Marines standing there.
WYATT: I wanted it to be them telling me that he was okay, that he was hurt or something along those lines but I knew.
BOWMAN: Kait was pregnant. She was due to give birth in just a couple of weeks. The Marines began their ritual. Kait began to sob.
WYATT: I kind of heard Derek's voice in the back of my head saying, there's nothing you can do about it now, sweetheart. You just need to be strong and to get through this last little bit of your pregnancy. And so, I dried up my tears and I asked, what do we do now?
BOWMAN: Derek Wyatt had wanted to go to war. This deployment to Afghanistan was his chance.
WYATT: In his letters, he said that he'd been gearing towards this experience in his life since he was a child.
BOWMAN: A child running around with his brothers in Ohio.
WYATT: He remembered going through some of the fields. He used to play war in the woods with his brothers, with sticks.
BOWMAN: While he was in Afghanistan, he called home a few times. But he wouldn't talk about what real war was like.
WYATT: It was mostly talking about my day, because he didn't want to worry me or, you know, get me too upset, and just how much we loved each other, and how much we were looking forward to Michael being in the world.
BOWMAN: Before he had gone to war, Kait had wanted Derek to write a letter to Michael. Derek didn't want to do that because he knew he'd make it home. What Derek did do was to read bedtime stories for Michael. Kait recorded them on her iPod. And so, for hours each day, Kait would press her iPod to her belly, so their unborn baby could hear his father's voice, hear him read the stories.
Today, Kait Wyatt struggles with the meaning of Derek's death. As a former Marine, she understands Derek had to complete the mission.
WYATT: Derek died the way he wanted to. He went out being a hero, fighting for what he believed in and being part of something that he believed in.
BOWMAN: But she wonders if more Marines, reinforcements, might have kept Derek alive. Afghanistan might be a better place. But was it worth it?
WYATT: As a grieving widow, I would say I lost my husband. And knowing that they have a school to go to is great and everything, but on my son's first day of school, his father's not going to be there.
BOWMAN: On the day she learned that her husband died, practically the minute the Marine officers left, Kait made a decision.
WYATT: My mom and I got into the car and went directly to the Naval hospital on base, where I talked to my OB-GYN and I told her that I wanted to be induced.
BOWMAN: Induced, so she could make it to Derek's funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. So, the day after she learned of her husband's death, Kait gave birth to Michael Wyatt - two weeks early - 7 pounds, 11 ounces.
(SOUNDBITE OF KISSES)
WYATT: A mama mama.
MICHAEL WYATT: Da-da.
WYATT: Da-da, da-da.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WYATT: Michael looks extraordinarily like his father. It's almost eerie how much they look alike.
BOWMAN: At the hospital, the day he was born, Michael wouldn't stop crying. So Kate gave the nurses her iPod, the one with Derek reading the bedtime stories. They placed it next to Michael and pushed play.
CPL. DEREK WYATT: (Reading) Out there things can happen and frequently do, to people as brainy and footsy as you. And when things start to happen, don't worry, don't stew, just go right along. You'll start happening, too. Oh, the places you'll go.
WYATT: And as soon as he heard Derek's voice, he stopped crying.
BOWMAN: Tom Bowman, NPR News.
WYATT: (Reading) Just never forget to be dexterous and deft, and never mix up your right foot with your left. And you will succeed. Yes, you will indeed - 98.34 percent, guaranteed.
Kid, you'll move mountains.
(Reading) So be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Brayor Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea, you're off to Great Places. Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.