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‘I’m choosing joy.’ In loving memory of Lance Corporal Cody Haley

Tessa Robinson Avatar

Cody is my favorite thing to talk about.

He was my first baby. We had quite a time getting pregnant. We went to the University of Iowa and had some help there. Cody was wanted before he was even born; both of my boys were. Cody was very outgoing and was not scared of anything. He was my little spit and vinegar boy. He did not like school and didn’t really like authority, which is very odd given that he went into the military. He liked to do the opposite just to see what would happen. He really was a spark of energy.

My boys are four years apart. Cody would go to church and pray for a baby brother. He loved to hold him and take care of him. Even as they got older, Cody was very protective of Colton.

He told us when he was 18 that he was going to go into the military. He was a senior in high school and he came home and announced that he was ready to go. I wasn’t surprised; I knew deep down all along that he would do that. My dad was in the Marines and he had such a big influence on Cody. My husband and I were both very supportive, but I told him it was a big decision and that he really needed to think about it – he could die. He responded, ‘Mom, Grandpa was in Vietnam and got killed on a motorcycle going back and forth to work. If it’s my time, it’s my time.’

Thinking about that talk has helped me so much. Cody had been deployed on an MEU and I know they went to Djibouti, Kuwait, Dubai and some other places. He enjoyed seeing different parts of the world and made a lot of close friends. They got back in May and I went out there to surprise Cody when he got home from deployment. I didn’t tell him I was coming. Something was broken on the ship when they arrived back, so they were sitting just off the shore of Camp Pendleton. He texted me and said, ‘It’s a good thing you aren’t here… you’d be sitting around doing nothing.’ I texted him back that I was there and couldn’t wait to see him. And then I sent him a picture of the sign I had – it was a hot pink billboard and it said, ‘Cody Haley come hug your mom!’ And he texted me back and said, ‘Mom, please don’t carry that, please don’t… why don’t you go wait by the car.’ Ha! So I said okay, but absolutely not! I was there hoopin’ and hollerin’ with everyone else. We had the best time. It was so nice – it was just him and me. I stayed for three days … we had so much fun together.

Cody had 10 days of leave post-deployment. He came home to our little town of Eldora, Iowa, at the end of June and went back to California on the 4th of July. We dropped him off at the airport in Des Moines, and that was the last time we saw him.

I’d rented a cabin in September at Big Bear Lake in California and we were all looking forward to that, but the accident happened on August 4th .

It was like any other day. I always thought I would know if my whole world shattered. But I went the whole day without knowing. Colton had a football practice – and not just any practice. It was a family day. My husband was working nights, so I said, ‘Why don’t you and I ride up together and then I’ll find a ride home or just walk.’ It’s only about a mile.

I was football mom. I was trying to get people lined up for fundraisers and food and this and that. And I was sitting there eating when our neighbor lady said, ‘Kim,’ Katie (her daughter) says there’s a van at your house and there’s some people there in uniform … brown uniforms.’ And I said, ‘Oh God…oh God… oh God… are they there for me?’

She said she didn’t know, and I told her to tell Katie to go find out! Go see if they’re there for me. Katie was scared to go talk to them, and I said, ‘Oh for Pete’s sake, stay on the phone and go find out!’ So she did and they said yes, yes, they were looking for Kim Haley. That’s me.

And I knew.

I knew.

I needed a ride home. My phone was almost dead, but I texted Cody and said, ‘Are you okay?’ but I never got a response.

We pulled up and there was a van with government plates. I got out and ran up, and said, ‘I’m Kim Haley. Are you looking for me? Tell me what’s wrong.’

And then they told me. Cody had been killed in an accident during training.

Everything is just a blur after that. My husband, Jeff, didn’t have phone reception because of where he worked. Everybody at the football game knew that there were men in uniform looking for me, so everybody at the game knew what was going on. They were trying to be helpful… but there were people that knew before Jeff. Jeff drove home, and the Casualty Officer and the Chaplain and somebody else were at the house. Colton was still at football and we didn’t know if Colton knew at that point or not.

One of the dads brought him home and we told him – he hadn’t heard yet, thank goodness. And then it was just a whirlwind from there.

We were told that there was a bunch of Marines that wanted to come out for the funeral and they were trying to do a Go Fund Me page, but it got shut down because apparently it’s against the law for an active duty Marine to solicit money. So I went down to the bank and got an account right away and they made it really easy for people to donate. Marine Parents shared it, and we raised $37,000 in two days, so that all of those boys could fly back and stay in hotels and charter a bus to the services. I felt like if those boys wanted to come here, then let’s get them here. They have been so sweet to us. I’ve adopted them all. The town of Eldora went all out for us. You don’t know how many people wanted to put those boys up in their homes. They got fed supper and people donated food.

We had his visitation on a Friday, and it happened to be Colton’s first football game. So we had the visitation and then supper and then we all went to Colton’s football game. Colton wore his brother’s number, #10. Eldora is a town of 3000 people and we had almost 50 Marines in the stands. It was a sight. I called it Cody’s homecoming game. It was the only game they won all year. And then we came back to our house and had a big bonfire.

I hate the circumstances. I hate them. But the support we have had makes it so much better. Making the funeral arrangements helped keep me busy. I didn’t want it sad. I wanted it to be a celebration. Three of the boys got up and told stories, and it was just perfect. One of the guys talked about how Cody was such a picky eater. They called him Main Meal because they had to practically make him eat his MREs… all he wanted to do was eat skittles and M&Ms. We laughed, and we needed to. And so did they. After the funeral, we drove him to Rockford, where he wanted to be, and buried him.

Rockford is about 60 miles from Eldora, and all the way to Rockford people came out in the towns to honor Cody. It was overwhelmingly beautiful … Tragically beautiful. It was like a parade route; people with flags. They called Cody Eldora’s fallen son. It was incredible to see our community pull together.

There were so many people. It’s like you get this fog. I can’t tell you what they said to me when they handed the flag… I just bawled and bawled and bawled.

I was doing little random acts of kindness and it just made me feel better. I decided that was what I was going to do. I go up about once every other week to where Cody is buried. My emotional shield comes down there. I go by myself. I don’t want anybody else around me. I want to cry and scream and curse and beat the steering wheel and I want to go alone. And then I’ll pick back up.

I read this one thing through TAPS that stuck with me… it was, “You’re not the woman that raised me.” It was about how I have a choice. I can keep being the person I want to be and keep honoring Cody and his memory, and make him proud, or I can curl up in a ball and not be the mom that I was for Cody and that I need to be for Colton.

I’m choosing joy.

I had always thought about what I would do if I lost one of my kids. I thought I’d die, too. But I have to go on. We all do. And Cody would want us to.

He was my little spit and vinegar boy. And I miss him terribly.

As told to WATM by Cody’s incredible mama, Kim Haley.

Rest in Peace, Lance Corporal Cody Haley. Never forgotten.

Tessa Robinson Avatar

Tessa Robinson

Editor in Chief, Former CIA

Tessa Robinson serves as Editor in Chief for We Are The Mighty. Prior to coming to WATM, Robinson served as Managing Editor for Spouse & Family at Military.com and Branded Content at Task & Purpose.