Staff Sergeant Tracy Johnson is an Iraq veteran and an Army widow.
She is also believed to be the first gay spouse to lose her partner at war since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
She married her long-time partner, Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson, on Valentines day in 2012.
In October, Donna was killed by a suicide bomber while serving in Khost, Afghanistan.
At StoryCorps, Tracy talked with her mother-in-law, Sandra Johnson, about finding out that their wife and daughter wasn’t coming home.
Click here for the transcript.
Sandra Johnson (SJ): So how did you get notified?
TJ: I knew that any communication about Donna was gonna come to you guys, because, even though we were married, I wasn’t considered her next of kin. So Donna’s sister called me and told me that the military people were there. So I grabbed a copy of our marriage certificate. I went to your place, and I said, "You know, I’m her… her wife. And I brought documentation." The Notification Officer looks at it, and then he looks at me, and he looks at it again and he goes, "Can I have a copy of this?"
And when a soldier’s fallen, they usually have a military escort that brings them home. And I said, "Can I do it, because I’m military?" He goes, "Well, We’ll see." But I know it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for your insistence.
SJ: I just… I did not want her coming home with a stranger. I wanted her coming home to family.
TJ: I was flown up to Dover to see her brought back on American soil. And honestly, I can’t tell you how great of an honor it is to escort a fallen hero home, but then when that hero is your wife, it means a lot more.
And uh, I was given all her awards, and all her personal documents that I had to turn over to you. And one of the hardest things for me was our wedding ring. I actually slept with it that night. I put her ring on with mine (laughs) because I thought it was going to be the last time I was going to get to see it.
SJ: Wow. I gave you your… your ring back. I thought that was only natural. Because I don’t know how the Army or any military does it, I just know what’s fair is fair.
TJ: You know, I’m so thankful for everything you’ve done. You allowed me to be named as a spouse in the obituary. Being given a flag in a private ceremony before the funeral, being given a second copy of all her awards, being allowed to sit in the front pew, and pretty much being treated as family the entire time, cause in reality…
SJ: In reality, you married my daughter and that was it.
TJ: But if anybody else were in my shoes, they could’ve been completely shut out and not had anything. So I understand how blessed I am to be a part of your family.
SJ: Well, I want you to know that I’m very proud of you. I consider you mine, because Donna considered you hers. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.