Wednesday, September 12, 2007

John Tanner remembered

You could open this story by saying a 21-year-old Marine from Georgia was killed in Iraq, or that a 19-year-old woman from Helena lost a husband in battle.

You could note that the woman is eight months pregnant; that she and her husband were married for less than seven months; that life has taken a sudden turn.

You could, and it would all be correct.

Rheanna Tanner, an expecting mother from Helena, lost her husband, Cpl. John Tanner, in Iraq last week. Still coping with her loss, she held his picture Monday and tried, the best one can, to reflect on his life and their short time together.

“I was in love with him,” she said simply. “In the back of my mind, I still think he’s going to come back.”

Tanner says what an obituary can’t — her husband was outgoing but shy; he blushed when they first met. It was her own brother, Cpl. Trey Clark, who introduced them. The two Marines were best of friends. They became family members and comrades on the battlefield.

The story begins when the two Marines traveled to Helena from Camp Pendleton last Thanksgiving. Tanner was hoping to find a wife, but Rheanna wasn’t thinking marriage. That changed after their first meeting, when Tanner shook Rheanna’s hand and turned red in the cheeks.

“It was love at first sight,” Rheanna smiled. “He was shy. That was unusual for him. I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh — he’s cute.’ ”

Tanner wasn’t in Helena for long. A Marine’s duty called and he returned to Camp Pendleton after Thanksgiving to gear up for a pending deployment to Iraq.

Still, even a thousand miles apart, neither Tanner nor Rheanna could push each other from their thoughts.

By Christmas, Tanner had made up his mind — he wanted to get married. He returned to Helena and proposed on Christmas Day, but only after asking Rheanna’s father for permission.

“He took me into my little brother’s room,” Rheanna said. “He got on one knee and gave me the ring and asked me to marry him.”

The answer was simple. Yes, she would marry him.

The wedding was set for March — Tanner’s deployment scheduled for April. The couple had four months before the 3rd Assault Amphibious Battalion was due to leave for Iraq.

So Tanner and Rheanna made time for each other. She followed him to Camp Pendleton first. They took a bus trip to Florida. Then, back in Helena with time running short, they went to Justice of the Peace Wally Jewell who legalized their union.

Somewhere in there, Rheanna smiles, she got pregnant.

“The day he left for Iraq was very hard,” said Rheanna. “It was always in the back of my mind that it could be the last time I ever saw him. But he told me, ‘Don’t worry. I promise I’ll come back.’ ”

It was a long goodbye, the kind they hoped would never end. April gave way to May and May to June. The war went on. The troop surge sent more Marines into battle. Maybe it would quell the insurgency and bring an end to the war.

“He called me at least once a week,” Rheanna said. “Sometimes it was two weeks before he could call. I wrote him lots of letters, and he wrote some, too.”

Then, on Aug. 29, the unthinkable happened. While conducting combat operations in the Al Anbar province, Tanner was killed. Rheanna’s brother, Cpl. Clark, was there when it happened.

“He hasn’t talked a lot about it,” said Rheanna’s mother, Kelli Clark. “He’s been very protective of his sister.”

Twelve days have passed since that day in Iraq and Rheanna is still coming to terms with the hand she’s been dealt. To some it may seem cruel, and even she is still working to sort it out.

But strength comes from inside, and Rheanna has it to hold. She also has her family.

“My upbringing and my faith has taught me that everything happens for a reason, and that God has a plan for everyone,” she said. “To have him leave and not come back — it closes one door and opens another.”

That other door is the baby she’ll soon hold — Tanner’s son. His name is Tavian Corey Tanner. It’s a name they both liked — Tavian being short for Octavian.

“I saw it in my eighth-grade history book and I liked it,” Rheanna said. “He liked it too.”

Rheanna’s mother smiled.

“It’s my first grandchild,” she said. “My husband has already claimed fatherhood.”

“I know I have lots of family here to help me,” Rheanna added. “I’m very protected.”

From the Independent Record

Related Link:
John C. Tanner dies 'while conducting combat operations'