SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, which records and shares the stories of service members and their families.
Mike Rudulph was 20 years old when he joined the U.S. Marines. He was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and served under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. StoryCorps sat down with his husband, Neil Rafferty, to talk about what happened when he got back from that first deployment.
NEIL RAFFERTY: I logged in to the Internet one day, and I met you. We talked on the phone all night long until the sun came up.
MIKE RUDULPH: By the end of the week, we were saying I love you over the phone.
RAFFERTY: Right. And then the first time I actually got to see you...
RUDULPH: We kissed.
RAFFERTY: Yeah, in your parents' front driveway so they couldn't see anything. And I just remember we drove to the woods.
RUDULPH: And we laid in the back of the truck and looked at the stars. I'd fallen in love with you. You had fallen in love with me. I mean, this was perfect.
RAFFERTY: But then, all of a sudden, you find out you have to get deployed again in a month. And I remember being like, let's just make the most of it, so we spent every single day together.
RUDULPH: Yeah. And then it was that last night that we had together, and I was leaving that very next day. And I packed my bags. I remember sitting on the bed, crying in my mother's arms, not able to tell her exactly why I'm crying.
RAFFERTY: That was the worst part. I couldn't tell my mom. And then you were gone, and you were in Iraq. I'd write you letters and sign them as Lisa in case they were ever found. And you'd call me every once in a while. But you did not call me for, like, three weeks. And I just remember one day, finally crying in my mother's arms. And I told her, I haven't heard from Mike. It's so long. She was like, why are you so worried about it? And I said, because I love him. That was when I came out to my mother. And she just held me and said that she knew already, that we weren't nearly as sneaky as we thought we were.
RUDULPH: And then I got back from Iraq, and you told me, Mike, I don't ever want you to go to Iraq alone again. I said, well, I'm sorry. If I get the opportunity, I'm going. And then you said, I know, and I want to go with you. So you joined the Marines for me, man.
RAFFERTY: We were both in the infantry. We were both in the same unit.
RUDULPH: And we got through it with only a few people catching wind of it.
RAFFERTY: And then you left the Marine Corps after that.
RUDULPH: I was so sick of living a lie as a Marine. I was ready to bust out of the closet with rainbows and glitter. And that's where we are now.
RAFFERTY: Yeah. We are what we are because of our insistence on being with one another.
RUDULPH: Just two imperfect people refusing to give up on each other. And I can't wait to see where we go with this life.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: Mike Rudulph with his husband, Neil Rafferty, in Birmingham, Ala. They eloped in 2018. And after the pandemic, they plan to celebrate their marriage with their fellow Marines in attendance. Their interview is archived with the rest of the StoryCorps collection at the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. 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.