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MY HERO: When My Husband Was Killed in Action, His Father Saved Me

A Marine father’s solemn duty was to support the widow of his beloved Green Beret son

spinner image Michelle Black with her father-in-law, Henry.
Michelle Black with her father-in-law, Henry.
Chona Kasinger

A disheveled and seemingly shrunken Maj. (retired) Henry “Hank” Black of the U.S. Marine Corps — my father-in-law — stepped out of his red Jeep Patriot and walked across my lawn in Fayetteville, North Carolina. It was Oct. 5, 2017.

I met him outside the front door. His eyes were glazed as he leaned in, giving me a silent, somber hug. His arms were weak around my shoulders, and he quickly retreated. His voice was thin as he asked, “Are you ready to pick up the kids?”

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A day earlier, Hank’s son — and my husband — Bryan, 35, a Green Beret medical sergeant, had been killed in action in Niger. His team had been ambushed outside the village of Tongo Tongo in an attack that left four Americans dead and several wounded.

Monstrous task

My family had been notified late that night. Now Hank and I were left with the monstrous task of telling my kids, his grandkids, that their father would never come home.

Hank stood beside me that day, stoic and resolute. He became the strength I needed when all of mine had vaporized. That was the first of many days in which I came to lean on the man who had raised my incredible husband, the father of our two sons.

In Bryan’s absence, this Marine did not miss a beat. He set aside his own grief to walk beside my children and hold their small hands, softly guiding their broken hearts forward into a life without their father.

spinner image Michelle Black holds an image of her husband, Bryan C. Black.
Michelle Black holds an image of her husband, Bryan C. Black.

First meeting

It was a cool night in the late fall of 2004 when I first laid eyes on Maj. Black. 

I ascended the stairs, nerves wound tightly in my stomach, wondering what awaited me at the top. Lifting my head, I saw a tall figure of a man in his mid-50s come into view, fit and well-kept with his wavy salt-and-pepper hair high and tight.

The retired officer fit all the stereotypes I had in my head of a tough Marine — until his mouth widened into a large goofy grin. He extended his hand as I stepped onto the landing. “Hello, my soon-to-be-daughter-in-law’” he said jovially as light danced around in his eyes. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

Throughout his career, Maj. Black had served his nation at home and abroad. Operating in hostile zones, he’d spent years in places such as Iraq, Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Albania and more. He was on leave from his then-assignment as a contractor and had come to meet me after hearing his son Bryan’s plan to propose in December.

My husband’s hero

It wasn’t long before I married Bryan, who followed Hank’s footsteps into uniform. It was because of his father — and hero — that Bryan decided to join the service in the fall of 2009.

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Over the years, Hank earned many awards, including a Bronze Star With Valor, but even beyond his heroics on the battlefield, Hank was most respected for his honesty, graciousness and integrity. Every decision he made with extra care and consideration for those under his command who put their lives on the line, those lowest down the chain.

Through his years of service and time spent battling our nation’s enemies abroad, nothing tested Hank’s resolve nor showed his true heroism more than what unfolded in a battle he was never involved in.

Cruelty of war

A man of few words with endless grace, compassion and wisdom, Hank held our world together on the days I no longer could.

He carried my mother-in-law, my two boys and me with all the weight of his own grief ever present, threatening to tear him apart. Throughout the past nearly six years, he has become more than my husband’s father and hero. Maj. Hank Black has become the hero of my two sons, the hero of my mother-in-law and my hero as well.

Though the cruelty of war has done its best to break him, Hank stood his ground, for he is a Marine through and through. Semper Fidelis.

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