Chad Gonsalves had many loves.
His wife, Julie, and sons Cody, 4, and 2-year-old twins Blake and Dylan came first and, of course, there was his family back home.
Then came the 2003 Chevrolet Silverado 4x4 pickup the 31-year-old Army Green Beret sergeant from Turlock had customordered a few years before shipping out to pursue Osama bin Laden.
"It was his other baby," his wife said. "It was his fourth child."
One year ago today, Julie became a widow when a bomb ripped through an armored vehicle in Afghanistan, killing Chad and three others. Her children lost their father.
The sparkling black pickup truck, equipped with virtually every option available at the time, now sits in the driveway of hernorth Alabama home.
When young men die in wars, the aftermath is understandably emotional and convoluted for all.
And for the widows, there is another element, as Julie Gonsalves now understands. What should she do with Chad's belongings?
What should she keep to pass down to his sons? What should go back to mom Marsha, father Larry or brother Josh in Turlock?
She also wondered what to do with Chad's truck. Not "the Chevy." Not "the 4x4." Not "the pickup." We're talking "Chad's truck," his most prized and hard-earned material possession.
"He'd make me push the buttons with the palms of my hands because otherwise my fingernails would scratch the (stereo) panel," she said, laughing at the memory.
Should she keep it for Cody and the twins? It would have to sit for at least 12 years before Cody gets his driver's license.
Or should she give it to someone in his family back home in Turlock?
Giving a special gift
By Christmas, she'd made up her mind. She brought the three boys to California for the holidays.
On Christmas Eve, at Chad's grandmother's home in Turlock, she handed Cody a small gift-wrapped box.
He walked over to his Uncle Josh, and said, "These are from Daddy."
Josh unwrapped the package, looked at Julie and uttered a quiet "thank you."
"I gave him a hug and said, 'You're welcome,'" she said.
"The look on Josh's face was complete awe," Marsha Gonsalves said. "What do you say? You can't be extremely happy to get something because your brother's gone. But at the same time, he was gratified. Julie made our Christmas meaningful this year by bringing the boys out and giving Josh the keys."
It really wasn't a difficult decision at all, Julie said.
"It made more sense that Josh could take better care of it," Julie said. "It's a guy's truck."
Josh is a mechanic who works at Bonander Pontiac in Turlock. He had ridden in the truck a few years ago when he visited Chad in Fort Bragg, N.C.
"We'd taken a trip to Myrtle Beach when the twins were born," Josh said. "It's nice. Chad always had to have the best."
It meant a lot to Marsha, too, because the pickup meant so much to Chad.
"I will have another part of my son back," she said.
For parents and spouses, the sense of loss is overwhelming. They go through the shock of learning their soldier is dead.
They endure the mindnumbing grief of the funerals — one at the base, another at home.
They cling to anything and everything that reminds them of their loved one. That's why Marsha replaced the sign given to her by the Blue Star Mothers that read "Freedom Isn't Free" after it wore out and blew down.
She placed four flags — one for her son and for each of the three men who died with him — in front of her home southwest of Turlock.
"We all lost something very big," Marsha said. "I don't want people to forget their freedoms are bought and paid for by people who gave their lives. I'm one of the guilty ones who never gave it much thought until I lost something so precious."
A wish for more time with dad
Julie, meanwhile, simply wishes her twin sons had had more time with Chad before he died.
"I wish they would have been older," she said. "They would have known him. They would have remembered him. Cody still remembers him. But to the twins, he's just a picture. They've seen the video, so they know he played with them. I wish he could have heard them talk."
That would have meant more than the pickup, which Josh will bring back from Alabama in August.
"It's going to be hard to see it go, but at least it will be going where Chad would have wanted," Julie said. "It's the last thing that's in his name. When that's gone"
Those he loved and those who loved him believe it would have made him happy.
"It was Chad's pride and joy," Larry said. "And now (Josh will) get part of his brother's past."
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.