Realities of Veterans Day

Finally together again.

While I’m trying to keep my blog set aside as my “happy place,” I feel like I need/want to post on the realities of Veterans Day as a war widow and Army officer.  As many of you know, I lost my husband, Dimitri, in Afghanistan when we were both deployed almost 2 and a half years ago.  We buried him at West Point, and I have not had the chance to go back to visit him since the funeral (I lived in Hawaii until this past December, and it was just too far of a trip). This Veterans Day weekend though, I traveled to New York with his family and my mom.  On Friday and Saturday we had lots of fun in the city eating at yummy restaurants, seeing Wicked on Broadway, and doing a little shopping (of course), then Sunday we went up to West Point to spend time with Dimitri.  For the past few weeks I’ve had quite a bit of anxiety about the visit.  I knew I was going to have a breakdown as soon as I was with him again, and the thought of that stressed me out because I tend to try to keep my emotions in check and maintain a strong front.  I also wanted to make sure that the things I brought to leave with Dimitri were significant enough.  After thinking long and hard I decided to bring the picture of our first “kiss” from the summer we met in 2006, the medal I received after finishing the Honolulu Marathon in 2011 (my first marathon and the race I ran in honor of him), Captain bars because he wasn’t able to pin on Captain with me, and a rock I picked up on Waikiki Beach as a symbol of happy times together in paradise.

Items I left with Dimitri.
With my mom and Dimitri on Veterans Day 2013.

The visit was emotional, therapeutic, and exhausting.  Not only did I get to visit Dimitri, I also got to visit our dear friend Daren Hidalgo.  He was the first West Pointer from my 2009 class that was killed in Afghanistan, and he is buried right next to Dimitri.  We all met in the summer of 2006, and we were immediately inseparable.  These two crazy boys always had me laughing, and I loved spending time with them.  Below are pictures of us three together over the years (I was always in the middle), and me with them this Veterans Day. 

Fall semester of our Yuk (Sophomore) Year at West Point in 2006.
West Point Christmas Dinner 2007.

Infantry Ball at West Point in 2009 a few months before graduation.
After Dimitri’s Ranger School Graduation.  Daren had graduated the month before.
Me with my husband and my buddy Daren on Veterans Day 2013.
While I have managed to continue to move forward in my personal life and I am now dating an amazing man, the loss of Dimitri is with me every day, and sometimes the feeling of sadness hits so hard that it knocks the breath out of me.  I miss Dimitri every single day, but days like Veterans Day, Memorial Day, birthdays and Christmas always tend to bring memories and emotions to the forefront.  This Veterans Day, thank a Veteran as well as their family members, because families endured the hardship of service right there along with the Veteran.  Please remember that even as time passes for families that have survived the loss of a loved one in battle, the scar of loss is ever present, and you word of thanks means more than you could even imagine.  Thank you, Dimitri.  Thank you for selflessly protecting our country, for making me a better person, and for loving me unconditionally.  I miss you so much and I am so very proud of you. 


Katie Vail
Katie Vail

Find me on: Web | Instagram | Facebook

Leave a comment

  1. November 11, 2013 / 4:17 pm


    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us all. Your strength has and continues to inspire me throughout my daily life and I believe you have the same effect on more people than you'll ever know. I enjoyed the limited time I spent with you and Dimitri. I particularly remember hanging out with you too overseas before we all got settled in! Those times will remain in my heart forever. I thought it appropriate to share this short poem from one of my favorite poets.

    I loved my friend
    he went away from me
    There's nothing more to say
    The poem ends, soft as it began
    I loved my friend.

    Happy Veterans Day!

  2. Virginia
    November 11, 2013 / 4:34 pm

    I only have a scintilla of understanding of my son's sacrifice and experience. THANK YOU SON!!! Thank you to your comrades past, present & future!!!

  3. November 11, 2013 / 4:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. You have shown love with a whole new light. Your love is forever and we thank you and their families for the ultimate sacrifice they have made. My you find peace and love again!

  4. November 11, 2013 / 5:02 pm

    Thank you so much for these kind words Fergy, and thank YOU for your service! Dimitri and I always enjoyed spending time with you too. Happy Veterans Day!

  5. November 11, 2013 / 5:03 pm

    Thank you so much Carrie! I appreciate you taking the time to read my post.

  6. November 11, 2013 / 5:05 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to read my post Virginia. God Bless America and the service members and families that have served and continue to serve.

  7. November 11, 2013 / 5:13 pm

    Oh, this made me cry at work! I am USMA '07 and reading your story in the West Point magazine was so moving. I got out over a year ago and I'm still trying to figure out how my service fits into the story of my life… these kinds of reminders make me simultaneously proud to be a part of such an impressive Long Grey Line and unworthy of the sacrifices others have made.

  8. Anonymous
    November 11, 2013 / 5:16 pm

    From a stranger…. thank you, Katie, for your service.

  9. Anonymous
    November 11, 2013 / 5:17 pm

    There are those who have given all to man the wall of freedom. Stay the course you have chosen and never forget those who are no longer with us. Without sacrifice we would only be sheep lead by wolves who would deny us Life, Liberty and Freedom. Thank you for being who you are and the sacrifice you have given.

  10. November 11, 2013 / 5:29 pm

    Thanks so much Aubrey! I'm struggling as well with wanting to transition to the civilian world and figuring out how I can use my service and make Dimitri proud. Happy Veterans day and thank you for taking the time to read my blog and my WP article 🙂

  11. November 11, 2013 / 5:34 pm

    Thanks so much for your words. I'll never forget those who have given all in defense of this great nation. I was blessed with 5 wonderful years with Dimitri, and I will always be proud to tell his story and I'm thankful that I was blessed to be his wife.

  12. Anonymous
    November 11, 2013 / 6:13 pm

    What a beautiful tribute, Katie. Thank you for your service, and blessings to your husband and friend for the ultimate sacrifice.

  13. November 11, 2013 / 6:43 pm

    I am saying a prayer for your peace today as you grieve a husband and fine, fine man. My son, Cason Shrode, graduated from West Point in 2007. But by the grace of God he is still with us after his tour. You are brave my dear girl and I am so proud of your service to this country and post so that it shows the realities of this day. May you have a blessed and happy life sweet girl.
    Robin Shrode

  14. November 11, 2013 / 6:57 pm


    I know we have never met but I was a roommate and friend of Kady's from college and she shared about this 2.5 yrs ago when she was training for the marathon you guys ran. You are a very brave and strong women. Thank you for your service and thank you for the life your husband gave and for sharing your story. Praying for peace this Veteran's Day.


  15. Anonymous
    November 11, 2013 / 6:57 pm

    Katie, I live and teach at West Point and will visit your husband and your friend from time to time. I'm inspired by all of you and I'm so sorry for your loss.

  16. November 11, 2013 / 6:59 pm

    If you ever want to pick my brain, please reach out. I have a great job and spent the past year and a half navigating this new experience. As a fellow USMA lady and veteran who's done it, I can offer some candid tales! 🙂

    Love your blog, I've added it to my RSS feed.

  17. November 11, 2013 / 7:46 pm

    Thank you for sharing and serving and giving so much….you were the trigger that finally got me started on a much needed cry on this Veterans Day.

    John '78

  18. Anonymous
    November 11, 2013 / 8:32 pm

    Your husband and your buddy would be proud of you for getting on with your life while reminding all of us that each tombstone, each statistic, each yellow ribbon and Gold Star has is own lovely and heart-breaking story. Best of luck to you.
    Ed USMA '80

  19. Anonymous
    November 11, 2013 / 8:40 pm

    I worked/served with your father, 2008-2009 in Iraq. I never met you or Dimitri but received regular updates from a very proud father. Suffice it to say your family has gone above and beyond serving others and I am humbled by the Grace that you and Dimitri have bestowed on this world. While you are almost a generation younger than I, you have set an example for me to follow when I reflect on those I lost on tours earlier in the war and the circumstances in which they occurred.

    Steve Alexander

  20. Anonymous
    November 11, 2013 / 9:00 pm

    Your strength is inspirational. I never had the honor of serving, but can tell you that all our service men and woman have my respect today and always…. Stay strong and continue to write, it is a gift given to you and one you should never let lapse.

  21. November 11, 2013 / 9:26 pm

    Thank you for your post! For continually living outside of yourself and pressing on despite your hardships. Military wives and more need these examples of fortitude and courage.
    spouse of USNA '09

  22. November 11, 2013 / 9:29 pm

    God Bless you, I will pray for you and continue too. Thank you for the sacrifice you have so deeply had to endure for our freedom.

  23. Anonymous
    November 11, 2013 / 9:54 pm


    Your dad and I served together in Iraq. Daren's dad and I are classmates. I visited the guys Saturday at WP. I am inspired by your grace and courage. Blessings.

    Doug Heckman USMA 81

  24. November 11, 2013 / 10:24 pm

    Thank you for the inspiration and for your service and sacrifice, Katie. God Bless, Jim Bannantine (your dad's classmate and company mate).

  25. Anonymous
    November 11, 2013 / 10:34 pm

    Thank you, your husband and your friend for your service and your sacrifice. Thank you for reminding all off us, myself include, that Veteran's Day, Memorial Day and the 4th of July, arent just holidays from work. God Speed.

  26. November 11, 2013 / 10:45 pm

    I remember hearing of your loss while I was working in Afghanistan for the USO. I had never met you or Dimitri, but I knew Daren while he was deployed, and met a few of your other classmates as they passed through KAF. I prayed for you many nights, for your strength, for your comfort and ultimately for your healing. I know I'm just a stranger, but I wanted you to know that there are people all over the world who wish the best for you.

    I wanted to share one of my favorite poems.
    Here is the deepest secret nobody knows
    (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
    which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
    and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
    I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)
    -e e cummings

  27. Anonymous
    November 11, 2013 / 11:37 pm

    From a stranger:
    Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do by reminding us all of the sacrifices that are made by those who serve this country. You, your husband, and your friend are what make this country great.

  28. November 12, 2013 / 12:11 am

    I count your wonderful Mom as a a dear friend, I teach next door to her. Your story continues to touch my heart and I wish you a life of peace and beauty. You are a true steel magnolia! Much love from home! Thank you!
    Valerie G.

  29. November 12, 2013 / 12:13 am

    I was very sad to hear about the loss of Dimitri. I was so happy for the two of you and always thought you were a wonderful couple meant for each other. I could never imagine the road you've traveled but I know you are a very strong woman and am so happy you've found the strength to continue on. Thank you for sharing your story and I wish you the best.

  30. Anonymous
    November 12, 2013 / 12:34 am

    I am particularly struck by your comment that you miss your husband – every single day. My sister lost her first husband in Loas 1971. Although she has married again and now has two grown children – she misses Bob every single day. Bob continues to be an important part of our family just as Dimitri will always be an important part of your life- past present and future –

  31. Anonymous
    November 12, 2013 / 1:09 am

    Katie you are one of the strongest women I've ever met. Much love to you & your family

  32. Anonymous
    November 12, 2013 / 1:36 am

    Thank you for openly sharing this. I'm glad you were able to come back to the Point yesterday to be with your husband for this Veteran's Day. My fiance and I are both Firsties right now and are set to graduate shortly after graduation. I try to ignore the fact that one or both of us could easily be killed before we get out. As much as I don't want to deal with this possibility, its real. Thank you for making me think about this Ma'am. I hope and pray that all goes well with you and that your heart continues to heal.
    ~A Firstie

  33. Anonymous
    November 12, 2013 / 2:43 am

    Thank you. My heart goes out to you and the families of your husband and friend. Sending prayers to you all.

  34. November 12, 2013 / 2:58 am

    Katie- I am an Army Nurse and a West Point mom (my son is '15). My first road marathon was Honolulu 2011. I wish that I had known you then. I would have loved to hear about Dimitri. Happy trails to you dear. I hope that life continues to bring you healing moments and fond loving memories. Love and best wishes!

  35. November 12, 2013 / 3:08 am

    Terribly sorry for your loss and wishing you much happiness in the future.

  36. Old Grad
    November 12, 2013 / 3:40 am

    Katie, I had read your story not too long ago. My connection is that Daren's dad, Jorge was a year behind me in C-3 back when we didn't shuffle companies, so we got to know each other fairly well. When his son passed, my wife had a handful of commemorative bracelets made (she owns Bracelets for America). I feel tied to you, and as such, my heart aches for what you have endured. At the same time, you serve as an inspiration for anyone feeling like the world is against them, and I thank you for that.
    I enjoy running and still have yet to run a full marathon, but it's on my bucket list.
    My best to you on this Veterans Day. Thank you for your service.

  37. November 12, 2013 / 4:06 am

    Saw this on FB. Thanks for sharing these pictures. We miss Daren every day. I'm with my in-laws this Veterans Day and will share this with them.
    Caroline Hidalgo

  38. November 12, 2013 / 4:13 am

    Thanks for your message of friendship and service, love and commitment, loss and grief, Duty, Honor, Country. Thank you.
    USMA 1968.

  39. Anonymous
    November 12, 2013 / 4:13 am

    This was both beautiful and heartbreaking. Thank you for reminding us of the personal sacrifice that so many have made. My prayers are with you. You are an incredible example of a strong, brave, loyal, and loving wife and American.
    Thank you.

  40. November 12, 2013 / 4:30 am

    Thank you Katie, for your courage, and the selfless sacrifice of you, your family and the Long Grey Line. My son is 2015.

    An Old Army Specialist Corps Officer.

  41. Anonymous
    November 12, 2013 / 5:09 am

    Grip hands, Katie.

    Jen USMA 92

  42. November 12, 2013 / 5:23 am

    We miss Darren a lot, still cry for him, what a terrble loss. Met Darren when he was a yearling. What a delightfull, sincere, stable, mature, good nature young man. My husband taught Darren several times, we love him very much and miss him a LOT.

    Darren's departure still hurts and when we talk about him one or both end up crying.

    Darren boy, you are missed.

    Arline ( Jonathan Steigman's wife)

  43. Anonymous
    November 12, 2013 / 6:57 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I have really no close connection to the military other than a grandparent that served. So many (most) of us outside the military world forget how real the death and sadness that so many of you are forced to endure. Thank you so much for writing this to again remind us what a true sacrifice so many have made. And how real it all is. I've shared this with everyone at work and on my facebook. And I don't think I'll ever forget it. Thank you again.

  44. November 12, 2013 / 11:10 am

    Oh Katie, you are such a strong strong and sweet woman. Thank you for your courage and strength and reminding all of us the burden you and so many others bear.

    All my love, Anastasia

  45. Anonymous
    November 12, 2013 / 4:00 pm

    Thank you for this.

  46. Anonymous
    November 12, 2013 / 4:08 pm

    Thank you for sharing! This definitely helps people see the reality of what this day means.I wish you the best. We will never forget those we've lost along the way and can honor them by living our lives to our fullest potential. I'd say you're doing great.

    And when our work is done
    Our course on earth is run
    May it be said "Well done,
    Be thou at peace"

    E'er may that line of gray
    Increase from day to day
    Live, serve, and die we pray
    West Point, for thee

    Current cadet, 2015

  47. Anonymous
    November 12, 2013 / 4:21 pm

    God bless you, your husband, and all of your family and friends. You really moved me today to be strive to be the best service woman I can be and to cherish the love I share with my man who is currently still a cadet. I'll be praying for you.

  48. Kathy Whitman
    November 12, 2013 / 5:17 pm

    Katie: This is Kathy Whitman, your middle school health/PE teacher. I have been SO moved by this tribute (passed along to me by Mrs. Butler, your gifted teacher). I have retired but am now teaching in the college sector. I have many past/current students who are veterans (both active and non active). I tell them all the time how grateful I am for their service to OUR country.
    I am so proud of you and think of you often. I share your story with many.
    Take care of yourself and enjoy that new, special person in your life.
    Hugs & smiles & God bless you,
    Kathy Whitman

  49. Anonymous
    November 12, 2013 / 7:29 pm

    Katie: My son is visiting West Point this weekend as a candidate for admission next year, and I am class of 1985. I am printing your blog and the comments for him to read on the plane on the way up to USMA. I will ask him to read it as it does a better job of explaining the closeness of classmates than I could ever do. It also provides a poignant and solemn reminder of the seriousness of the endeavor. Thank you for sharing so bravely and humbly.

  50. Cathy Chapman
    November 13, 2013 / 1:20 am

    I wish I knew what to say. May God bless you always. Thank you for sharing your story. I have a daughter at West Point now. My heart aches for you and all the families who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Stay strong!

  51. November 13, 2013 / 5:01 am

    God bless you for sharing this. It brought tears to my eyes, and filled my heart with gratitude and respect for your husband and others who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Thank you to your husband for his service. Thank you for sharing your story. My husband is a USMA 2002 grad and served with the 4 th ID.

  52. Jenny Lennox
    November 13, 2013 / 11:19 am

    Thinking of you and Dimitri always! We won't forget him.

    Love Jenny and Bob

  53. Anonymous
    November 13, 2013 / 6:15 pm

    Thank you. The love and support from those behind us, and the legacy we know we will leave, allows us to face our possible fate.

    Thank you.
    '12 grad currently in Afghanistan.

  54. Anonymous
    November 14, 2013 / 2:08 pm

    Hi Katie, I will keep you in my prayers. Thank you for sharing this. We were stationed at West Point and that cemetery is a beautiful, peaceful, and special place. I am glad that Dimitri and Darren will be together in perpetuity. Regards, Nancy

  55. Anonymous
    November 22, 2013 / 2:48 am

    I'm an old timer who got out after 7 years and this brought back memories of those who passed so close after graduation with the world in front of them including some close friends. This is a wonderful tribute and a reminder of the feeling of brotherhood I've felt at so many Army-Navy games…whether live or sharing it with local USMA/USNA grads. Many thanks to your husband, friend and you for serving us as so many have before. Jack USNA '87

  56. Anonymous
    December 20, 2013 / 11:25 pm

    As the mom of a West Point 09 graduate, I want to thank you, your husband and the many others for your dedication, commitment and sacrifice. I'm so sorry for your loss and offer our condolences. Thank you for opening your heart and sharing a piece of it with us. I just can't imagine the pain and heartache you have been through. Peace and love be with you as your life moves forward. We will not forget those who have and are serving.

    God bless you.

  57. Anonymous
    January 24, 2014 / 1:51 am


    We have not ever met but I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you sharing your story. I am a 2006 WP grad and I also married a classmate. I remember when I first heard the news about Dimitri and I was heartbroken. I prayed for you immediately. I know the days are still tough, but your strength is incredible.


  58. Anonymous
    January 24, 2014 / 4:46 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I graduated from Sweet Briar College in 2009 and spent many of my college years in Lexington at VMI. I now work for the Army in Charlottesville VA and am married to an Army SF Captain. I was never cut out for the military, but am forever grateful to those and their families that sacrifice every day so that we may enjoy the freedoms we so often take for granted. Thank you for service and your sacrifice, it does not go unnoticed. Best of luck as you step into the next chapter of your life, I have no doubt you will be successful in which ever direction you head. What an inspiration – prays and hugs your way!


  59. Anonymous
    January 24, 2014 / 6:26 pm

    Your story is so inspiring. Thank you for your service, your sacrifice, and your strength. Best of luck in your endeavors to achieve your goals. You deserve every happiness and success that comes your way.

  60. Anonymous
    January 24, 2014 / 11:25 pm

    Katie- I was a beanhead when your dad was a firstie in the same company (C-1) and was Buckner bunk mates with Jorge Hidalgo, Daren's Dad. My mom is buried close- I have always stopped and visited with Daren. I will now stop and see the both of them. I have several friends and my mother very close to the both of them. Rest assured that the current cemetery director is a very good one. Hallowed ground and if there is space when I pass- I will join them all. Thank you for sharing.

  61. Anonymous
    February 3, 2014 / 2:17 pm

    Katie, I know we don't know each other but I went to school with Kady Rodriguez- Hoffmaster. Kady shared your link and also shared the news of when all this took place 2.5 years ago as she informed me about he marathon you guys ran together. You are such a strong women. Thank you for sharing and thank you for all your husband did for our country. – Mandy

  62. Anonymous
    April 24, 2015 / 1:01 pm

    Thank you Katie and Dimitri for your service.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Join the mailing list to receive the latest blog posts and more!

Thanks for signing up!

Looking for Something?