It started out as a blog, a way for Veronica Ortiz Rivera to sort through her emotions and heal following her Marine husband’s death in action.
“I did not want to go to counseling,” Ortiz Rivera said, adding that she went one time. “(With the blog) I had control with how much I dug in my heart and mind for emotions.”
So the Jacksonville resident took to her blog to release all those pent-up emotions and answer questions people may have about what she and her family went through during that time, like if dress blues-clad Marines did show up at her door to deliver the news.
Those memories and that healing has now been turned into a book.
Jared Laskey, co-author of Veronica’s Hero and friend to Ortiz Rivera, thought her words needed to be immortalized so he suggested they self-publish it.
“I realized it was a timeless message and it needed to be immortalized and as a book, it becomes more timeless,” he said.
Laskey, who was in an infantry unit in the Marine Corps, said he knows what it’s like to be in an infantry unit and to deploy and partially because of that, thought it should reach a bigger audience.
November 16, 2010
U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Javier Ortiz Rivera deployed in 2010 to Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, out of Camp Lejeune, according to The Military Times. Before that, he’d deployed to Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2005, the article said.
“This last deployment, I kind of felt it,” Veronica said. “I never felt death coming so bad like I did then. When they came and knocked on my door, I just knew.”
The “they” she referred to were the Marines, who were indeed wearing dress blues, who showed up at her door on Nov. 16, 2010, to inform her of her husband’s death. It was a moment she detailed in her blog, and now her book.
In an attempt to get her own emotions together, she didn’t tell their three children, who were ages 8, 5, and 3 at the time, until the next day.
“The hardest thing I’ve done in my life is tell them their dad died,” Veronica said. “There’s no turning back from the moment you tell them. Their life is changed forever. It’s like you ended their life.”
At Javier’s funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery, Veronica dressed their two boys in a replica of Javier’s uniform because they couldn’t have an open casket funeral and because Javier was never able to wear his Purple Heart, she said.
“It was the only way people would see the Purple Heart,” she said. “He wanted to take the boys to the Marine Corps’ Ball in little dress blues. He would call them his little Marines.”
At the funeral, a photo was taken of the oldest boy, Andrew, and has since gone viral. It’s amazing that six years later, it still circulates, Veronica said.
“You can tell they’re very proud of their dad and I think that…it is just a moment when you took that picture that will never happen again,” she said.
Husband, son and brother
Javier Ortiz Rivera was many things to many people, but his widow says the role he was best at was father.
“The best thing he ever did was fatherhood,” she said. “He was very hardened sometimes toward me and other people, but not with his kids.”
He made every effort to be hands-on and he never missed a first day of school, she said, adding that just days before her husband’s final deployment he was somehow able to see their son, Andrew, now 11, off to his first day of kindergarten.
“Me, I lost a husband and that’s awful, tragic and horrible,” Ortiz Rivera said. “But the kids lost a future with him because a father like him can’t be replaced.”
Not only was Javier an involved father, he was active in his church and he served as a father figure to the Marines under his command, Ortiz Rivera said. Ortiz Rivera recalled a time Javier had taken money from his personal account to help one of his Marine’s pay a bill and another time he’d driven almost to Wilmington to pick up a Marine’s car and bail him out.
“He really, really cared for them,” Ortiz Rivera said. “I respected and appreciated that he genuinely cared about them, but I felt jealous almost to a certain respect.”
Sharing him with 36 other Marines, she said, was hard with a deployment coming up.
Now those Marines who deployed with Javier still keep in touch with Ortiz Rivera — something she says she feels very blessed about.
“There’s not a Mothers’ Day that goes by that they don’t reach out,” she said, adding that they also contact her and the kids on Christmas and that after Javier died, they would randomly show up to help her in any way they could, including babysitting.
“It speaks volumes that they wanted to help,” Ortiz Rivera said. “It shows what type of leader Javier was.”
But Javier also had a big hand in getting Ortiz Rivera and their kids to attend church. It was that faith and her church family, Ortiz Rivera said, that helped her in her darkest moments.
Although the book took six months longer than expected to publish, Laskey said the wait for “Veronica’s Hero” was worth it. The biggest things he hopes readers will take away from the book are “courage, honor and faith.”
Ortiz Rivera said she felt like she had no one she could talk to who understood, so writing helped her acknowledge some of her feelings that she’d been suppressing.
“Veronica is honestly one of my heroes,” Laskey said. “Because of everything she’s gone through and how she faced everything with courage and how she was transparent and honest about everything.”
He described Ortiz Rivera as incredible, gifted, intelligent, but most importantly, real. He hopes people will learn from Javier’s sacrifice and from Ortiz Rivera’s strength.
“Javier’s a hero and what he did is history and it took true courage for him,” he said. “The book barely scratches the surface of what kind of a man he was. He was a great Marine, he was a great man. He served his country well.”
While the book originally served to help Ortiz Rivera heal, now she hopes it will help others who are grieving.
“If I can help even just one person, then the pain will not be in vain,” Veronica said. “If one person (turns to) faith, his death will not be in vain.”
For more information about Veronica’s book, visit Lulu.com and search Veronica’s Hero. The hardback version of the book costs $25.99, the paperback version costs $12.99, and the eBook costs $6.99. Proceeds from the book are going to A Soldier’s Child and Snowball Express, two organizations that have helped Javier and Veronica’s children as they’ve grown.