Timothy William Romei 03/11/1968 — 10/08/1990

October 8, 1990 was the day my life was split in two; before and after. That was the day my beautiful oldest son Timothy Romei, a corporal in the US Marine Corps, was lost in a helicopter collision over the Gulf of Oman with seven other young men during Operation Desert Shield. I can remember the moment as if it were yesterday. Below is a piece I wrote several years ago just to stop it from running so constantly through my brain; it so clearly describes what it was like.

 It’s Monday morning, October 8, 1990.  Rudy and I are sleeping in.  Two more days of vacation before I go back to work.  The phone rings.  It’s my sister.  She asks if I’ve watched Good Morning America.  I tell her no, I’m still sleeping.  She said they announced that two helicopters from the USS Okinawa, Tim’s ship, have crashed.  Eight killed.  I tell her it’s not Tim.  There are lots of helicopters on the ship and I would have heard anyhow.  I hang up and try to go back to sleep.  I can’t go back to sleep.  I begin to feel uneasy.  Rudy gets up too.  The cats start meowing; we’re out of cat food.  Rudy says he’ll go to the store to get some.

The uneasiness increases.  I decide to call Camp Pendleton.  They tell me nothing.  Tim shipped out of Tustin; try there.  They say they don’t know anything about a crash.  I say how can you not know if it’s on television?  They say I have to talk to a public affairs person.  I hang up.  I get dressed.  The uneasiness has now become anxiety.  I try calling Tustin again.  I’m getting rude to the young man on the phone.  Suddenly Rudy comes running into the bedroom, a small brown bag with the cat food in his hand.  “They’re here!,” he shouts.  “The Marines are here!  It’s Tim!”  Just like in the movies.  I scream into the phone:  “It’s my son!”

I run to the living room window and see two young Marine officers in uniform.  I know why they’ve come.  I think, “If I run out the back door they can’t find me and then they can’t say what they’ve come to say and I’ll be safe and my life won’t be changed forever.”  They knock on the door.  I open it.  The youngest one looks scared and nervous; he’s being trained.  The older one is more self-assured.  After they introduce themselves I don’t let them speak.  The house is a mess.  I pick up newspapers from the sofa so they can sit, ashtrays to empty, glasses to take to the kitchen.  “Mrs. Reber!  Sit down!”  This is the older one.  I sit.

He tells me that two helicopters have collided over the Gulf of Oman.  One of them is Tim’s.  I tell him I’m sure Tim is all right.  He says, no, there is nothing left.  A huge fireball was seen from another ship.  There is hardly even any debris, no remains.  I say, “How can you know?  This just happened!”  He reminds of the time difference; it actually happened yesterday, Sunday.  A training mission gone wrong.

 I sit.  It’s a beautiful fall day. The windows are open.  At the park across the street people are playing tennis.  I think, “How can they act like it’s a normal day?  How can they be playing tennis?  Don’t they know that Tim is dead?”  I hear the sound of tennis balls, a strange sound on this day.

 I get up to go into the kitchen.  At the dining room I stop dead in my tracks (an appropriate word, dead).  Then I’m enveloped with a sense of awe.  Tim knows now!  He knows what we all struggle to know during our lives.  For the first time in my life I know without a doubt there is a god.  (A parting gift from Tim, some say.)  The moment of awe quickly vanishes.  There is only devastation now.

 The day passes; I remember very little about the rest of it.  The next day I go to the window in the living room and discover that each one of the huge, old palm trees that line our street is wrapped with a wide yellow ribbon tied in a huge bow.  There must be a dozen of them, each tied at exactly the same height as the others.  It looks like large yellow butterflies have decided to rest on our street.  They come down after the funeral.  I never know who put them there or who took them down.

 I will always hate the sound of tennis balls.

 It was clearly the worst moment of my life. And yet, it was the moment that changed me forever and gave me the courage to survive, to be open, and to tell the people I love that I do (I thank God that my last words to Tim were “I love you”). Tim always thought I was more than I am (as probably do all my children) and after his death I tried and continue to try to be the person he thought I was. He was the big brother my other children knew they could talk to and he would listen. He was easy-going and loving, and when home on leave would come over just to wash my car. He loved telling me, with a big grin, things he had done when he was a little guy that I never knew about, just to watch my hair turn gray right in front of him, I suppose! One day he visited me at work and laughed and joked with my co-workers, teasing me unmercifully but with love.  He was proud of me, of his dad, his step-dad and of his siblings. This is not to try to make some sort of saint out of Tim, he was definitely not that. He was slow to anger but when he did, holy cow! However, it never lasted long and his beautiful smile was never far below the surface.

The day after he died and the week following my house began to fill with people, wonderful people bringing huge bouquets of kindness!  Food, the offer of a cleaning lady before the reception our home, my work place offering to cater the reception, hugs, tears, support, and encouragement of the kind I had never known. My sister and her husband came and stayed a week, which I needed like water. One of my oldest friends flew out to California for the memorial service from Connecticut, having been given the mileage points from someone who knew she needed to be there and didn’t have the money. Kids were there constantly, kids that knew Tim, some I had never met, all who told me things he had done for them or said to them, the fun they had had, the pranks I never knew about (good thing!), and how he had touched their lives. The same was true in the letters I received from his commanding officer, that Tim was the person the others went to when they needed support or encouragement and that he was always there to offer help if asked. In my home that week so many young people cried openly and hugged one another, boys and girls, boys and boys, and girls and girls. Believe me when I tell you I was NEVER that kind of person. I was much more reserved and tried very hard to keep my emotions in check when in public.  But since Tim’s death I’m not ashamed to cry and I’ve become a big hugger! I smile more, laugh louder, and have tried to become the person Tim believed me to be.

 Tim’s life and death gave me the courage to show up in my own life, to be brave at times I’d rather hide, and to risk being vulnerable. Even my little blog, which is still scary, is something Tim would have applauded and said “Go for it, Mom!” He really believed I could do anything I wanted. There’s never a day that I don’t think of him and miss him terribly. Not only was Tim my sweet son, he was and is my greatest teacher.

 Although I still hate the sound of tennis balls.

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36 thoughts on “Timothy William Romei 03/11/1968 — 10/08/1990

  1. Tears over here. And chills. And sorrow for your loss……and joy for your gain. I have often wondered why it is the really really really really hard things that teach us the most. I know there are others who need to read this. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I am proud of you for sharing an event so deeply personal and I feel like you have shared a gift with me, of which I am grateful for having the opportunity to have read. This is one of many gifts you will pass on to others.

  3. Oh Tina, this is truly beautiful What a tribute to your son and I know somewhere out there he is smiling and saying “Go, Mom!” Your words have moved me right to tears today – both the story you write today and the story within a story that you wrote so long ago. Losing a child is something that never quite leaves, and I am so glad you are able to embrace the gift and legacy this loss left you with: smiling, hugging & laughing more, and living into the person your son saw in you! Many hugs and blessings!

    • Sweet Sarah, thank you so much for this! Yep, I can see Tim doing just what you said! It’s funny you mentioned him smiling; that’s the one thing people commented on since he was a tiny little guy, his smile. His commanding officer mentioned it to. He truly was a blessing to me and if I’m a better person it’s because of the gift his life gave all our family. Many, many hugs back! xoxo

  4. Such a wonderful tribute to your son. All my thoughts and beat wishes to you as you remember him particularly this week.

    Lynn

  5. Your writing & this story are so powerful.  This is the kind of beauty that inspires people to hug their children longer and closer, celebrate the people who support us, and learn how some brave people can inspire even through tragedy.
    Your bravery  so honors the love and support you shared with your son.

    • Lynn, that you so much! If reading this inspires just one person to hug their child longer and appreciate the blessings in life, then maybe I did something good. Thank you again for your kindness. xoxo

  6. My heart breaks and aches for the loss of your son. I cannot imagine…I just cannot. Even though I obviously never met Tim, I almost feel like I know him through your blog and so I can feel that loss…does that make sense? Our children are so precious. Such a gift. And we think we will have them until it is OUR time to go. Obviously, that does not always happen. Whether it is a child, a friend, a family member, let people know how you feel. That you appreciate. That you love. That you care. Thank you, Tina. For sharing your pain and your joy. Your son would be so proud. xoxo

  7. He was a great brother, even though we were siblings through marriage. It never mattered to him or me, or any of us. I’ve told you before that I don’t know how you came through that, I don’t think that is something that I would handle well at all, but you did. And you still are my favorite mom. 😉

  8. Oh, oh, oh. I have tears in my eyes reading this. Just seeing his photo — how sure and happy he looked. What love! There is so much love in this piece and I feel grateful to you for sharing it. What especially moved me was the easy and warm relationship you two had. I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. I missed reading this on the anniversary, but am here with you right now. xo

  9. I served on board the USS Okinawa with your son. I was on the flight deck when the accident happened and I was part of the aircrew that searched for him. To this day, when I think of the great people I had the honor of serving with, your son is one of the first ones that comes to mind. . I can’t even begin to express how sorry I am for your loss. Tim was a great man, a good fried and an outstanding Marine. I will forever be proud to say that I had the honor of serving with him.

    • Michael, thank you so very much for this!! (I didn’t even know my blog was still live!) Your post means so much to me and all of Tim’s family. His sisters were just young teens when he died and now Tim has three nephews and a niece he’ll never know, but they know who he is and they all love him. His death was the hardest and most awful thing that’s ever happened to me … to all of us, and your kind words mean more than you can know. Memorial Day, his birthday, and of course, October 8th, are very difficult days for all of us and you can’t know how much it means to know that he’s still remembered by his Marine brothers. Are you in touch with anyone else who served with Tim? Might anyone have a picture? The picture on my blog post is one that one of his shipmates sent to me not long after his death. (It’s cropped considerably; in the original you can see the whole Huey – my gosh, he really loved that helicopter!) It’s probably my favorite picture of all. It sits beside me as I work at my computer. Thank you again, Michael. I hope your life is rich and full, as it should be for someone as kind and thoughtful as you are. Sending you a hug and much love. Tina

  10. Tina, I served with your son also. He was a great Marine and a wonderful person. Some of us would like to put together a special tribute/fund raiser for the families for the 25th anniversary of Tim’s unfortunate passing. If you could contact me at pammon66@yahoo.com, I’d like to pass on your information to the event organizers. Thanks for your time.

    Paul Ammon

    • Paul, you can’t imagine how much this means to me! I makes me cry with happiness. I’ll email you shortly. Thank you so very much for remembering.

  11. Tim and were in the same Aircrew class in Pensacola FL (1987), he probably told you about it. There were only 7 Marines in the primarily Navy Class of ~60 and we kicked all of their butts. We were not going to get beat by a sailor. All 4 of us junior Marines shared a room together. Tim and I were excited to do this float together. I was a crewchief with HMM-164 on the CH-46 helicopters, same job different aircraft. I know our side of the story and what we went through on the ship, it was sad to read about your experience at home. I am so sorry for your loss, I miss Tim.

    Send me an email ( thanna@vironex.com ) and I will send you some pictures I have of Tim.

  12. My name is Tim Talbot and I too served on the Okinawa during Desert Storm. I was a crew chief on the CH46 and was the Lone 46 out flying with the 2 hueys the night/morning of Tim’s death. It was a very sad day that became worse as the sun rose. I remember seeing the debris in the water as we searched hoping to find a survivor. I am sorry for you loss and want you to know your family is in our prayers. I did not know Tim that well but he left an impression in me cause I have never forgot his name and he is the only Marine lost that day who’s name I remembered. Take care .

  13. I just saw your blog today and read it. My heart goes out to you. My brother John was on one of those helicopters. Even though it’s been 25 years today, it still hurts so badly. Their Marine buddies are having a 25 year memorial this weekend in Justin, TX, at the Rabbit Hole Brewery. I’ll be going with my sister in law (Johns widow) and my niece Jessica. Jessica was born just 3 months before John died. He never got to me him. None of those men will ever be forgotten. God bless you.

    • Carolyn, I hope you see this before the memorial on the weekend. Someone shared it with me a couple of days ago and I posted on FB today. I’d love it if you or someone could read it at the memorial for me. And be sure to raise a glass for me!

      High Flight

      Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
      And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
      Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
      Of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things
      You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
      High in the sunlit silence.
      Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
      My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .
      Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
      I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
      Where never lark, or ever eagle flew
      — And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
      The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
      Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
      — John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

    • Carolyn, I’m Tim’s sister and I am sorry about your brother. My mom told me that your brother never got to meet his daughter and I can’t imagine what that was like for her.
      I miss him and think about him often. I’ll see something or hear something that reminds of him and he’ll pop into my head for a second, that happens all the time

  14. Dear Carolyn, Thank you so much for writing. It means a lot. I so wish I could be in Texas this weekend for the memorial. Please let everyone there know I’m sending love and hugs. I know how traumatic that day was for those on the ship. And how awful it must have been for you to lose your brother. I know how terrible it was for Tim’s brother and sisters. The girls were young teenagers at the time and now Tim has three nephews and a niece he was never able to meet. Sometimes the girls have trouble knowing that they’re older than Tim ever got to be. It’s taught me something about grief; that even though we continue to go on, there’s a hole in one’s heart that never heals.

    I wanted to tell you that there’s a man who has a blog called “I’m Blogging” (https://lscotthopwood.wordpress.com/. He was on the ship and posted about the accident. Since then there have been a number of people who were on the ship that day who have commented there. I’ve found it very comforting and thought you might too. His blog isn’t about that one incident but it’s connected many who were there. I posted there this morning as well.

    Again, thank you so much for writing. One of my fears is that Tim and the others will be forgotten. It’s wonderful to know that that isn’t going to happen. And BTW, Tim would love going to a place called the Rabbit Hole Brewery! Please tell people that he is there is spirit, smiling his amazing smile. Sending love and hugs to you and your family.

  15. I am very sorry I have not come on upon this post earlier. I have thought (had nightmares) about that morning for years. I am also very sorry for your loss! I cannot say that I knew your son but I waved to him many times as they ran air security around our amphibious fleet. I was on the USS Raleigh LPD1. I remember the morning relatively vividly. We were with a group of I believe 11 other ships from the amphibious fleet. That morning I was on a 50 caliber gun mount on the port side, aft end of the ship. It was just getting light and very foggy. You typically didn’t see fog over there. The two Huey’s were doing security runs around the amphibious fleet. I heard them coming and eventually saw them about 25 yards out. I waved to them as they flew by at a slow speed. They were always friendly with a wave. Little did I know that would be the last time I would be able to wave again. Unfortunately, I do not have much more than this but I hope it can bring some closure. My prayers are with you and your family. If you have any questions or anything feel free to write me back. May God bless you and your family.

    Your son and anyone else will not be forgotten.

  16. Hi, My name is Albert M. Ramos, It really has taken 26 years to do this. I served with Tim on the USS Okinawa. I was with 1st Battalion 4th Marines ( Infantry). Tim and I became friends early in our deployment. I do not recall exactly how we met but You really couldn’t miss his Little butt and Gigantic smile. I was stationed in Alameda in the 1988 and we spoke of Alameda and other things. After Tim had passed, I truly wanted to seek you out and pay my respects. Life had different plans and I apologize for not honoring him by paying my respects to his Mother.. I would freeze up or just couldn’t do it ( I would go to Alameda with the honest and pure intentions of paying my respects….. I can only say I am so very sorry) Ma’am, he really was my friend. We talked about everything ( nothing bad) just 2 young kids in the BIGGEST War our Country had been in in a long time….. And we were PROUD – and scared. Everyone knew we were friends ( See, it was kinda unusual for us to be friends. Tim was an Air Winger and I was a GRUNT. The 2 clans don’t mesh… the morning it happened a couple of his buddies came into my berthing and woke me and told me what had happened. Thank You for your time…… I think of my friend often – always have and will. God Bless and Please excuse my bad letter form and improper grammar. Again, Thank you and SEMPER FI.

    I live in the San Francisco Bay Area (Richmond) and my email – doomsdaylives@gmail.com

  17. Hello Albert, thank you SO much for getting in touch! You can’t know how much it means to me. And Tim’s smile – oh, how I miss it. (not sure about the little butt 🙂 ) Tim, as you know, made friends with people he liked and nothing else about them mattered in the least. He was always like that. I moved away from California the following year to the Portland, OR area and have lived in Vancouver, WA for the last 15 years. I’ll write soon to your email address. Please know your letter is beautiful and wonderful and means more than you can know. xo

    • I second what lscotthopwood says, Amen:-) Your family is in our prayers. Knowing that one day their will be a glorious reunion is a hope and prayer we can all rest on:-)

      Sent from my iPhone

      >

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