Ten Years Later: Bringing Nick Home to Leadville
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
Tis the Season for Christmas parties and office get-togethers. So it seemed appropriate to catch up with Rachele and Brad Palmer last Saturday as they prepared for the Lake County Public Works holiday party. Ten years ago they had been doing the exact same thing on December 16, 2006, when a knock came to their door which would forever change the course of their lives. This is that story.
The Palmers had returned home after getting things set up for the annual holiday celebration. Brad was kicked back on the couch trying to get a nap in, and Rachele was tending to something in the kitchen when there came a knock at the front door. Brad called out for his wife to answer it, although Rachele thought twice about it as she headed in that direction, as they weren’t expecting anyone. But then, as she explained, “something pushed me to answer the door.”
Two Marines known as Casualty Assistance Calls (CAC) Officers were standing on the other side.
“My heart just sank,” explained Rachele Palmer. In August 2005 after graduating from Lake County High School, their youngest son had enlisted in the United States Marine Corp. By December 16, 2006, Lance Corporal Nicklas J. Palmer was fighting over in Fallujah, Iraq. He was only 19 years old.
“I knew that they were here with news, and it wasn’t going to be good news; it was going to be bad,” Palmer continued with her story. Of course like most mothers, Rachele’s first hopeful thoughts were that they were going to inform them that Nick had been injured and was overseas recovering in a hospital.
But in fact, her first instinct had been right. It was bad news, very bad news: Nick had been killed in action. He had been shot in the face by a single bullet and died instantly.
Brad was by his wife’s side when these specially trained Marines finally delivered the devastating news after asking “a barrage of protocol questions,” as Rachele invited them into the house.
What followed was one of several responses that CAC Officers are trained for. Brad, who to this day cannot discuss his son Nick without producing a puddle of broken-hearted tears – a complete contradiction to the tough, solid man that heads up the public works crews – responded to his son’s death with unabashed grief, wrapped up in a sea of screaming and profanity-ridden rants that masked the pain that only the loss of a child can reveal.
“It took me until the next morning to realize that Nick was really gone,” said Brad Palmer during our interview last Saturday as the Palmers prepared to go to the same Public Works Christmas Party, now ten years later.
After 40 minutes of explaining the very honorable Marine protocols and procedures in place for bringing their military brother Nick home, the CAC Officers left.
“I turned and I grabbed Brad and we held on to each other. We broke down,” Rachele continued. “We made a pact and a promise that we would be there for each other, that we wouldn’t turn our backs on one another. We would have to do this together.”
That was ten years ago. Since then, how the Palmers have chosen to deal with their loss can be seen as a hopeful Christmas tale. It’s a story about Gold Star Families, those who have lost an immediate family member serving during wartime. It’s a story about time, efforts and resources spent in upgrading the Lake County Veterans Memorial and bringing new life into annual services.
It’s a story about traveling around the country, attending and supporting veterans’ events and organizations; about speaking and sharing their own painful story so that others may have hope for life, to know that there can be life on the other side of such tragedies. It’s a story about dedicating highways to heroes who make the ultimate sacrifice and then bringing dozens of visitors to travel on them to the Leadville community to honor veterans and other loved ones every May.
And now you are invited to be part of that story. To commemorate the 10 anniversary of Lance Corporal Nicklas J. Palmer’s sacrifice, the public is invited to a candlelight vigil tomorrow, December 16 at the Lake County Veterans Memorial, located in the Evergreen Cemetery in Leadville. The vigil will start at 6 p.m. with a brief ceremony, and also provide guests with a chance to share if they wish. Candles will be provided.
Residents and visitors will also note the flags will be out on historic Harrison Avenue on Friday. This measure has been done every year on this date in tribute to Nick. Were you there that night when they finally brought Nick home two weeks after his death? Do you remember that frigid, early morning scene when hundreds of people from a small mountain community gathered together on the avenue as the procession finally brought Nicklas J. Palmer home to Leadville?
Then come and share your story at Nick’s Candlelight Vigil . . . In The ‘Ville.
Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin LLC, a digital media company located in Leadville, which publishes two online news websites: LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will never forget the night that they brought Nick home to Leadville