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Widow Finds Comfort in Military Community

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

HAVELOCK, N.C., Sept. 24, 2009 – Melina Nolte and her 8-year-old daughter Alanna call this quaint Carolina town home, but not because of its close proximity to the beach or its southern hospitality. They chose Havelock because it’s the last place their Marine Corps family was together.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Alanna Nolte, 8, holds a pillow picturing her father Marine Sgt. Nicholas Nolte, with her mother, Melina, at their home in Havelock, N.C., near Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, Sept. 17, 2009. Nicholas died Nov. 24, 2004, from wounds suffered during combat operations in Iraq. Melina, a native of upstate New York, decided to raise their daughter where the family was last stationed. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Like many survivors of fallen servicemembers, the Nolte’s chose to hold on to their military community because it’s familiar and offers a strong support system. Military communities give widows and survivors a sense of family when they need it most, Nolte said.

“Just the familiarity of going on base and shopping and seeing Marines, you’re just reminded every day that they’re there,” she said.

Havelock is a small community just outside the gates of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. Melina, Alanna and Marine Corps Sgt. Nicholas Nolte were stationed here for less than a year before Nicholas was deployed to Iraq. He was a loving husband and father whose life was cut short at 25 when he was mortally wounded November 2004 in Anbar province.

Melina was heartbroken and exhausted with grief. She savored the memories of outings her young family shared on the beaches and nearby national parks. Nicholas loved the outdoors, but more than anything, he loved being a father, she said.

“[Nicholas] was a really special guy,” she said. “He loved the outdoors and rock climbing. He was the kind of guy who always made everyone laugh. He loved being a dad.”

Nicholas was medically evacuated to a military hospital in Germany, and then transferred to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Md., He fought hard for his life for 15 days after the roadside bomb struck his up-armored vehicle, but ultimately died of an infection, Melina said.

The young couple’s four-year marriage ended too abruptly and violently for Melina and Alanna to stay in North Carolina, she said. She longed for a fresh, new start and thought that leaving her Marine Corps life behind was the best thing for her daughter, who was only three then.

Shortly after burying Nicholas next to his father’s grave in Falls City, Neb., they moved to Melina’s hometown in Keene, N.Y.

“I just wanted to start over and figure out what I needed to do with my life now,” she said.

Soon after the move, Melina realized that upstate New York didn’t share her same admiration for service men and women. Her family and friends were mostly supportive, but Melina became disgusted with the overall lack of appreciation for the military she found there, she said.

“When I went back to New York, everyone who found out how I became a widow would say, ‘what a waste’ or something negative towards the military,” she said. “I’d say my husband died serving his country, and they’d respond, ‘I’m sorry,’ then ‘what a waste.’ They weren’t supportive of the military at all, and I needed people to believe in what he died for.”

New York wasn’t home anymore. She started to realize that North Carolina was her home, and even more to her surprise, she realized that the Marine Corps was where she and Alanna belonged. Nicholas loved the Corps, and after a little more than a year away from it, Melina was beginning to understand why, she added.

“I felt like I needed to be around the Marine Corps because of their toughness and discipline,” she said. “I felt like that was instilled in me.”

Melina found a house near Cherry Point and settled here. Many of her friends are Marines, and many of Alanna’s friends are children of Marines. They frequently do their shopping on base, and civilians here appreciate the sacrifices her family made.

“Down here, people are a little more apt to say ‘thank you for your service,’” she said. “We were able to be more proud of Nicholas, and there was more support. Back home, they didn’t get it.”

It’s been nearly five years since Nicholas passed away, the last three of which Melina and Alanna have lived in North Carolina. Melina, 31, said she’ll always have a connection to the Marine Corps, but confesses that she hopes to one day become less dependent on the military, she said.

“I think I’ll get to the point one day to where I can leave here,” she explained. “Being here helps, and as time goes on, I think it gets easier to let go.”

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Related Sites:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Military Homefront Casualty Assistance
Survivor Outreach Services
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors
Gold Star Wives of America Inc.
American Gold Star Mothers Inc.

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