CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- One of the most uplifting experiences for deployed service members is receiving an envelope or parcel during mail call – especially in the barren deserts of Iraq. But that feeling will never again be the same now that Lance Cpl. Holly Charette is gone.
A memorial service was held, June 27, for the 2nd Marine Division Headquarters Battalion mail clerk who died in a suicide car-bombing attack on a convoy she was in only a few days prior.
Charette’s friends, comrades and leaders filtered into the chapel’s air-conditioned vestibule. The cool air was a welcoming sanctuary from the dead heat of the day, but it didn’t seem to lift the wilted spirits of the mourners who gathered into the seats and crowded the doorways to pay homage to their fallen sister.
A lone bugler played the ‘Church Call’ as the service members took their seats and places. Division Chaplain Capt. Mark L. Tidd welcomed everyone and gave the invocation.
The Cranston, R.I., native brought smiles to so many faces during her time with the unit. Mail from the U.S. sometimes takes weeks and even months to reach the Al Anbar province, where Charette’s unit is fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Everyone knew her smiling face and she at least knew everyone by name since she sorted literally tens of thousands of pieces of mail here. There were times when she would even make special deliveries if a Marine or Sailor was expecting a package.
“I can remember when we first deployed here I was joking with her and gave her a hard time about why I hadn’t received any letters yet,” said Staff Sgt. Timothy Edwards, the division’s public affairs chief. “Later that month, she actually came to my office with a box and a big smile saying ‘Special delivery, staff sergeant.’ I’ll always remember that.”
When she was killed in action, Charette was temporarily assigned to an entry control point in the city of Fallujah just a few kilometers west of here. Her job was to search Iraqi women and female children who entered the city in support of an effort to secure the area of weapons threats. It was her first chance to work in the field, but the mailroom was where her heart was.
“I never really thought too hard about being a mail person, but it’s really an important job and people depend on me,” said Charette in an interview earlier this year. “There are a lot of stresses involved, but it’s really worth it at the end of the day.”
Some of her close friends sat in the front row as people spoke at the podium, reciting anecdotes from happier days or testifying to the true happiness she brought to her unit.
“Of course, this past week has been emotionally difficult for all of us,” said 1st Lt. Rebecca G. Moore, the battalion adjutant, “but when I think of Lance Corporal Charette, I can’t help but smile. Lance Corporal Charette made everyone she came in contact with feel at ease.
“You may not know it, but Lance Corporal Charette has affected every single member of Headquarters Battalion,” said Moore as she spoke to the gathering. “Every piece of mail, every letter, every post card, and every package that you received from March until early June, passed through her mailroom. . . The day after she died we received twice as much mail as ever before: it filled an entire seven-ton. When I walked outside and saw that truck full of mail, I knew that she was with God, looking down upon us and smiling her usual bright, beautiful smile.”
First Sgt. Sandra K. Kehrt, Headquarters and Service Company, Headquarters Battalion first sergeant conducted the roll call soon after, where three Marines in Charette’s section answered in loud voices – ‘present!’ after their names were called. Kehrt called out the last name and there was silence save for a few sniffs.
“Lance Corporal Charette. . . Lance Corporal Charette. . . Lance Corporal Holly Charette!”
The bugler played “Taps,” a military tradition for fallen service members. The sound of the bugle rang throughout the chapel, evoking strong feelings from the crowd as tears rolled down many of their faces. Corporal Millareisha Q. Dixon, Charette’s best friend, was one of them. And she gave her last goodbye.
“When she left, I hugged her and said ‘Okay Charette, I’ll see you in a month,’” said Dixon. “And to think now I won’t ever see her again in the flesh. When I think of this I remind myself of Philippians 4:13 – ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’
“Thank you, Lance Corporal Charette for being ‘one of the few.’ Your work is only complete here on Earth. So many of us will look up to you for our strength now. We will never forget.
“We thank Lance Cpl. Charette for her valor and nobility to herself, to her family, and to the USA, and to those she came in contact with. I am going to be strong and finish this out for me and you both. Don’t worry; I’ve got the mail…”