Vicki Waldron experienced the highs and lows of being a military mom just eight days apart.
On Memorial Day, the Modesto woman endured the phone call telling her that her son, 22-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Tim Waldron, had been injured in a training accident in eastern Africa.
On Tuesday, she and her family sat at Tim's bedside in the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. The door opened. In walked President Barack Obama.
"I got a hug, and he kissed my cheek," Vicki Waldron said. "(Tim) was actually the first patient to meet with him, which was kind of exciting."
She'll take that kind of excitement over the exasperation she'd endured since Memorial Day.
Tim Waldron joined the Marines a few months after graduating from Davis High School in 2005. He went to Iraq in the summer of 2007, serving a few miles from Fallujah.
This go-round, he was on a six-month tour of duty with Bravo Company, arriving in the Gulf of Aden on the troop carrier USS Comstock on May 23.
His company went ashore for training exercises in Djibouti on Africa's east coast and along the shipping lanes frequented by Somali pirates.
"We met up with Alpha Company to conduct a mortar shoot," he said.
One mortar round didn't want to cooperate. It refused to fire. So they tried it in another cannon. Again, it didn't fire. They pulled the trigger again.
"It went off inside the cannon," Tim Waldron said. "I was thrown forward to the ground. I got up, saw a lot of blood and fell down. I heard someone yell, 'He's been hit in the throat!' Here I am on my last training operation, and that had to happen."
Shrapnel pierced him in many places above the waist, including his stomach, and left a deep gash on the right side of his groin. His jaw was broken in several places.
Members of his company used two poles and a poncho to create a makeshift stretcher and carried him roughly 200 yards to a Humvee. He doesn't know if he was taken aboard the USS New Orleans for treatment or spent 1½ days in a Djibouti hospital. He only knows that a couple of days later, he was bound for the American military hospital at Landstuhl, Germany. That's more than his mom and family knew.
Now, rewind to 3 p.m. on Memorial Day. That's when the phone rang at his parents' home in Modesto. Vicki, her foot in a cast after recent surgery, answered.
"I answered like it was a normal day," she said. A warning flag didn't rise even after the caller identified himself as being a staff sergeant from the Marine Corps national headquarters.
"It was Memorial Day," she said. "I figured he was calling to thank people who supported (the Corps)."
He told her that her son had been wounded and was being flown to a hospital.
"That's all we know at this time," he told her.
"Five hours later, (Tim's) commanding officer called and explained the accident," she said. "I didn't hear anything more for 36 hours. The Marines were never notified he'd gotten to the hospital in (Landstuhl) Germany. By the time I reached the hospital, he'd been there 13 to 15 hours. It was the worst thing a mother could go through."
OK, the second-worst.
"I'll have to say the phone call was better than the car in the driveway," Vicki Waldron said.
After stabilizing him in Germany, the military flew Waldron home to the United States and he faced more surgeries at Bethesda. The Marines also flew Vicki, husband Richard, son R.J. and Tim's girlfriend, Kate Maduell, to Bethesda. They landed Saturday, a day or so after Tim arrived from Germany.
"He now has Jay Leno's jaw because of the swelling," Vicki Waldron said.
On Sunday, Secret Service agents came to Tim's room.
"They said there would be a secret visitor," Waldron said.
It's not uncommon for VIPs to visit wounded military personnel when they return home. By the pace of the preparation and activity, Waldron suspected it was somebody pretty high up — maybe even the president himself. Still, he was surprised to see Obama walk in.
"I would have been happy with the garbage man from down the street," he said. "I was happy to meet the president."
Obama didn't just pop in for a quick photo-op. He stayed for nearly 20 minutes.
"He wanted to say hello and make sure we were still in good spirits," Waldron said.
"He was very nice and polite," mom Vicki said. "He walked and we all stood. He told us no, to sit, and shook all of our hands. We took pictures."
No one asked if Vicki Waldron voted for him in November. She didn't.
Nor does she consider herself a political convert having met him. Still, the president came and visited her wounded son, and it was a moment none of them will forget.
Tim Waldron is finished with his duties overseas and will muster out of the Marines in September 2010.
"Someday you'll be sitting around the campfire and telling your kids or grandkids that you went to fight pirates in Somalia," mom Vicki told him.
And thanks to a faulty mortar, met the president from a hospital bed in Maryland.
Quite a spectrum, indeed.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.
For more photos and postings, visit Lance Cpl. Tim Waldron's Web page at www.timwaldron.blogspot.com.