Just before United States bombs pounded Iraq, 4-year-old Logan turned to his mother and blurted, "My daddy is never coming home, is he?"
Logan's mother, Tiffany, won't let him watch the news. But he knows the nation is at war. Logan used to sleep in his own room. Now he's too scared; he sleeps in his mother's bed with a photo of his father, a Marine, beside him. Even so, he started waking up screaming: "Mommy, the bad guys are shooting at my daddy."
Logan's daddy is Sgt. Tanner Morath. In the 1 1/2 months that he's been in the Middle East, he has called home when he could. Mostly, he writes. It's his only tether to his family. He never mentions war. His wife, he believes, will hear about war. Instead, he writes what she longs to hear: how much he loves her.
Hello darling, how are you? Me I could be better. I could be home playing with the kids, holding you as we watch 'General Hospital.' Instead I'm here and you there.
Baby, if you have any doubt in your mind that I don't miss you, then you need to go and bang your head on a brick wall 'cause I miss you more than ... more than ... I can't even think of the words to explain how much I miss you. I mean, sometimes it hurts. I wish I could look into your eyes and feel your fingers running and intertwined in mine. To be able to kiss you and see the twinkle in your eye when I tell you that I love you. TIFFY, I MISS YOU!!!
Tanner Morath, 26, is one of the 30,000 Marines who shipped out from Camp Pendleton. He, like roughly two-thirds of the Marines, has children and a spouse waiting for him.
Tiffany made a button adorned with Tanner's picture and yellow ribbon that she wears over her heart. She was outside her home hanging red, white, and blue lights when a friend yelled at her, "Sirens are going off in Baghdad!" Tiffany ran inside to the TV, and saw the White House spokesman announce that war had begun.
When Logan asked her why she was crying, Tiffany said it was because she'd stubbed her toe.
In the days since, Tiffany has scarcely slept. It's the sight of missiles and bombs exploding that twists her stomach. She tries to convince herself that Tanner will be safe. That becomes more difficult as the first Marine casualties are reported.
"I'm scared about what's going to happen," she said. "I'm scared about who's going to get the knock on the door, even though I know it's not going to be me."
Tanner and Tiffany, 23, worry about their kids, Logan and his baby sister, 8-month-old Madison, and how the family will cope with daddy at war.
Logan's normally orderly world has ceased making sense, and his emotions outpace his ability to articulate. He is shooed away from the TV, and he refuses to sleep in his bed. At times, he is a hair's breadth from meltdown. Tiffany, Logan and Madison said goodbye at the base Jan. 28. Morath, an aircraft ultrasound technician, tends the Cobra, an attack helicopter. Logan saw his daddy's two buddies, Joe and Flo -- Sgt. Joseph R. Graham and Sgt. Jose A. Flores -- two men he calls uncle. Then he saw his daddy's M-16 rifle.
"Daddy, why do you have that gun?" he asked.
Uncle Flo jumped in. "We got the gun to get cats if they climb on the helicopter," he said.
Uncle Joe added, "It's for squirrels."
"No," Logan said. "Daddy, you're going to get the bad guys."
In that moment, Logan began to understand. If his daddy was carrying a gun, it meant he might shoot it. Worse, someone might shoot at him.
Tanner Morath didn't leave until 2:30 a.m. Logan, dressed in jeans and Spider-Man shirt, was cold. Tiffany wrapped a blanket around him. As they headed to their car, Tanner's squadron was called into formation.
"Wait," Logan told his mother. The boy stood at attention, saluted the Marines as they marched by and yelled the rallying cry: Hoo-Rah!
Tiffany sobbed silently. Logan hugged her. "Mama, please don't cry; I'll take care of you."
Feb. 7, 03
Hey buddy, how are you? Happy Birthday! I know you won't get this in time 'cause today is your birthday. But hey I didn't forget it. I am sorry I couldn't be there. I wish I could. We will do something when I get back. I miss you partner. Be good and I love you.
On a separate sheet of paper, Morath wrote to his wife:
Good morning my love. How are ya?
I went up to the phone center yesterday to call you and wouldn't you know it, the [bums] closed it for whatever reason. I was [angry]. Then I come back, read for a little while, go to sleep. Then about 10 p.m. somebody comes back and says the phones are back up.
So I get up, get dressed, walk a quarter-mile to the bus stop, wait to catch the bus, get up there about 10:45 at night and of course, just my ' ... luck, everybody on the base was in line. A 1-3 hour wait. I am so determined to talk to you, I wait. 30 minutes later, the phone lines go down again.
How's my kids? Doing good I hope. I really hope you are doing OK babe. I really miss you and the kids.
After Tanner and Tiffany finally spoke by phone, she wrote to him:
I don't care what time it is. Call me when you can. If it is 3 a.m. I will answer the phone. I don't work so you know I am here. I am sorry you are having to work so hard. I wish that I was there so that I could help you. I just wish we were together all the time. I know this stuff is going to happen and I am sorry that this had to be your first deployment.
Just be careful and you guys take care of each other ...
I ordered some stuff for the house, well the downstairs and I may rearrange our room. Hope you don't mind. Well baby, I love you ... I love you more than you will ever know ...
All my love, Tiffany A. Morath aka Mrs. Sgt. Tanner Morath
For each day that his daddy is gone, Logan makes a link out of construction paper. On it, his mother writes down what they did that day that Logan liked: Went to story time and learned about trains. Friends came over to play. Shopped with Mom.
Logan hung the paper chain in his room. It stretches down the hall of their two-story house. He drew a map for his daddy, showing how to get home, and mailed it.
Tiffany traced Logan's hands on paper. Then they traced Madison's hands and Tiffany's. They wrote: "Daddy, whenever you want to hold our hands, you can take your pick."
Not long after, Tiffany heard back.
Hello my darling, how are you? Probably better than me. All week long I have been on this ... working party building a helo [helicopter] parking garage. All I can say is tired, sore aching muscles, CHAPPED LIPS and tore up hands. Right now, it's cold as hell. I have a stuffy nose, had a fever this morning.
Your feet must be tired, 'cause girl you've been running through my head all day long.
How's my kids? Hope they are doing well. God I wish I could talk to you right now. I need to hear your voice. I am so tired I can barely see what I am writing down. I wish the mail was a little faster than this 'cause I wish I would get mine.
Everyday I get back to the tent hoping there is mail but there never is.
All I know is I can't wait to get you and my kids in my arms. Madison probably doesn't know who I am by now. How's Logan's asthma? Hope he is doing good with that. Alright babe, I am going to bed.
I love you more than you know, Tanner
T-N-T Tanner & Tiffany Forever
I LOVE YOU TIFF. DON'T forget THAT, EVER, no matter what. You are what makes my heart beat!
Tanner and Tiffany met in an Internet chat room four years ago. She believed from the beginning that Tanner would be a lifer in the Marine Corps. But she never figured on war.
When Tanner called six days ago, Tiffany soared. She wrote:
I just wanted to write you and say that it was so good to hear your voice tonight. I miss you so much. I am so happy that your spirits are up.
... I just wanted to say Thank You for marrying me. Thank you for putting up with [me]. I know that I have not been an easy person to deal with and I am sorry. Tanner, you mean the world to me. I don't know what I would do without you. You are my rock. I love you so much! You are my one and only SOULMATE. I will never want to be anywhere but with you.
Well baby doll, I am going to bed and dream sweet dreams about you.
Love Always and Forever,
Your Wife, Love bug,
On the day that the bombing began, Tiffany received an e-mail from military officials saying that communication with her husband, and the other Marines, has been cut off.