It was the Fourth of July weekend, and Vicki Apsey had just walked into Walmart.
American flags hung around her, and people shopped to prepare for their picnics and backyard cookouts.
Apsey headed to the aisle stocked with baby items. She was there to buy baby wipes for her son, Lance Cpl. Josh Apsey, who was stationed in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment — known as "America's Battalion." Baby wipes were one of the few ways the 19-year-old could bathe.
In the aisle, Apsey stood next to a young mother and her infant son.
"Enjoy him," Apsey said. "It wasn't that long ago that my son was that age. Now, I'm buying baby wipes for him because he's a Marine in Afghanistan."
Apsey recalled the overwhelmed look in the young woman's eyes.
"Oh, okay," the woman replied and walked away.
Anger welled inside Apsey as she looked around the store. Didn't anyone know there was a war going on? Then tears rolled down her cheeks.
Since he was 11, Josh Apsey wanted to be a Marine. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks made a huge impact on Vicki and Tom Apsey's oldest child.
They thought he'd outgrow it and humored him with a trip to a local Marine recruiting office.
"He came home with some posters, and the guys at the office got a real kick out of it," Vicki Apsey said. "We just kind of ignored it, but it never went away."
By the time he got to Riverview High School, Josh had read countless books on the Marines and joined the ROTC program. When he was 16, he told his parents to prepare. On his 17th birthday, he would expect them to sign enlistment papers.
"I told him to graduate high school," Apsey said, "but to him, that was a bleep on the radar. He said he needed to get on with his life, and talked about how he could retire by the time he was 37 and about all these goals and dreams."
Since May, Josh has been in southern Afghanistan. Waving goodbye to him that spring night as his bus pulled out of Camp Lejeune was hard. Waiting for his expected return this month has been even more difficult.
What if he gets hit by an IED? What if Marines show up at my door?
Apsey keeps busy by adding anything to do with Josh's unit to a thick stack of newspaper and magazine clippings. She has recorded hours of news programs on television, and when she's not filling up a journal, she organizes all the e-mails and letters Josh has sent home.
Her family, including a 17-year-old daughter, Jordyn, has been chronicled by National Public Radio throughout Josh's deployment.
She also started a prayer network on Facebook with other Marine moms. They call themselves prayer warriors.
"I believe strongly in prayer of a committed mom lifting her son up," Apsey said. "But I started to realize that if I truly believed in what I said I did, even when I saw other Marines dying, that I had to recognize it was not going to be my will.
"If it's his time to go, it's his time to go."
But she said she didn't feel true peace until she attended the funeral of a friend's 23-year-old son in mid July.
He died in a car accident near his parents' home in Plant City.
Apsey walked up to the casket to pay her respects, where she gave her friend a hug. The grieving mother had a message for her:
" 'I don't know if this is the time or not, but I know you've been fearful for your son,' " Apsey remembers the other mother saying. " 'But it can happen 3 miles from your house.' "
Apsey thanked her. She knew that no matter what, she had to trust her faith.
And she has ever since.
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2454.