IRVINE, Calif. --
This is a story about a soldier coming home, not a Marine. As a Marine, I don’t often write about other services, but this story needed to be told.
A person can live with a happy heart, no matter how brief their time on earth or how much pain they endure. I was deeply moved when I first heard this widow’s tale, but I gradually understood the message behind it.
This is not a normal homecoming story.
But this story needed to be told.
Frishta and Army Capt. Jeremy Linn came from completely different worlds. Jeremy was a Christian, and a brash and lively outdoorsman from Kansas. Frishta on the other hand, is a Muslim who moved from Afghanistan to the United States as a refugee when she was 11 years old. She was older than him, and both had different views on life and love. Deployment was also on the horizon.
The unlikely couple would overcome these obstacles, but a bigger challenge was yet to come.
A big heart and an infectious laugh
Frishta met Jeremy at Ft. Polk, Louisiana. She didn’t think much of him at first – she even considered his advances annoying.
“He was fairly young compared to me and I wanted him to behave more professionally at work,” said Frishta. “But we got assigned to a project together and I got to know who he was. He had a gentlemanly side which I didn’t know existed. He loved to help people.”
Jeremy served as a military policeman. Always there to protect, serve and help people in need, he deployed to El Salvador and then to the Middle East doing tours in Afghanistan and Iraq where he was awarded a Bronze Star for his selfless service.
“He had a big heart and an infectious laugh. I fell in love with his laugh before I fell in love with him,” Frishta smiled as she reminisced.
Jeremy courted Frishta for two years before they got engaged. To pass the time on the weekends in Ft. Polk, Jeremy and Frishta would go fishing, hiking and shooting.
Two years into their marriage, the couple was preparing to deploy together to Afghanistan in April 2013. But before they could leave, Jeremy started displaying symptoms of a violent illness.
“They sent him to San Antonio to get an endoscopy,” said Frishta. “We went to M.D. Anderson in Houston, where they diagnosed him officially with Stage 4 cancer of stomach, esophagus and liver. The prognosis wasn’t good”
Live life to the fullest
Jeremy had one year left to fight.
Frishta asked him for a list of everything he wanted to do. For a whole year, they devoted one week to chemotherapy and one week to go through the list, fulfilling everything Jeremy wanted to do.
He got to shoot from a helicopter, ride a NASCAR stock car and go to the NASDAQ stock exchange to ring the market’s opening bell.
“Even though he was sick, I made sure all his wishes came true,” said Frishta. “We had the best year we could have.”
Amidst all this, Jeremy wanted Frishta to be happy, too.
“He asked me to live my life and not mourn for him,” said Frishta. “He said I would have three months to mourn and that I had to live my life afterwards. His wish for me was to live life to the fullest.”
Despite being terminally ill, Jeremy would still go out of his way to help out fellow soldiers. Whenever they were at M.D. Anderson, Frishta recalled Jeremy helping out amputees and other injured service members.
“Jeremy would always say he could still walk, whereas the guy in the wheelchair can’t. He’d open doors, and help them move around,” said Frishta. “He would always go out of his way to help out anybody in need.”
As his year came to an end, Jeremy slipped into a coma for several days. During his final hour, he awoke and looked at Frishta, by his side.
“It was the same Jeremy I fell in love with,” said Frishta. “I told him that I loved him and that I’ll be okay.”
Jeremy passed away in Frishta’s arms on April 8, 2014, surrounded by family and friends.
At Jeremy’s wake, they all shared stories and laughed with each other. Jeremy was a jokester, and he wanted his wake to be more of a celebration of life than an event of mourning, said Frishta.
“He never said that he was dying or complained that he was in pain when he was in severe pain,” said Frishta. “He fought cancer like the brave soldier that he was. He never once said ‘why me?’”
On June 27, the Gold Star Wives of America, an organization that supports spouses and children of fallen service members, sent out a message asking for assistance for Frishta so that she could move to their new home in California. Eight Marines, former Marines, former Sailors and a military spouse answered the call.
“We never leave a fallen comrade and their loved ones behind,” said Sgt. Rachel S. Kreiser. “As Marines it’s our job to help out those in need and Frishta was in need.”
Despite coming from different units and backgrounds, they worked as a team to carry heavy storage boxes and furniture into the new house from a storage area, helping Frishta transition into her new home.
“I feel like there’s a common brotherhood that exists no matter what branch you’re in,” said Sgt. Richard Aguila who left his twenty-four hour duty post and drove directly to the area to help. “We all ultimately face the same sacrifices and share the same burdens. Our mission is the same, and that’s to protect the country.”
“If I were to be killed in action, I would also like somebody to take care of my loved ones and help them out with the little things,” added Aguila.
Throughout the day, the volunteers talked to Frishta, as she told stories about her husband. She laughed and smiled with her family and the volunteers as they shared some lunch after a long day. She mentioned that had Jeremy been there, he would have wanted to volunteer and help out in a similar situation.
Frishta now lives in Irvine with her immediate family. In her living room lies a chest with mementos and photographs of Jeremy. And though she keeps these mementos and her memories of Jeremy close to her heart, she is determined to carry Jeremy’s legacy of living life to the fullest.