After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Dett spent a year deployed to a Utah munitions installation. He has not sought "compassionate leave" to see his burned-out house and is not sure when his unit, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Cavalry Regiment, will be demobilized.
One of the first things Shellie Dial, 53, noticed as she arrived at the site where her home had stood were the once majestic oak trees around the property. Many were gone, others blackened.
Just before Billy deployed in September, the family had finished remodeling: new bedrooms, kitchen, carpeting. He was home in 2003 and had helped keep the Cedar fire from destroying the house.
"We were almost done," Dial said. "Just three years more and Billy would be retired: We could get in the motor home and travel with the grandkids. I guess plans have a way of not staying the way you want."
Her husband is on his way home. After making sure the maintenance needs of his squadron's helicopters were being met, he began the 24-hour trip to Southern California. Most likely, he'll get two weeks leave and then have to return.
On Sunday night a week ago, Shellie had been warned by neighbors to evacuate. She grabbed the usual items: the children (only one still living at home), the animals (two dogs, one cat), and the family's photos and important papers. She had time to contact her husband to ask if there was anything else he wanted saved.
Yes, he answered, his dress-blue uniforms.
"He's a Marine," she said, as though no further explanation was required.
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