PORT ANGELES —
On June 1, 2011, Betsy Reed Schultz arrived at Dover Air Force Base to witness the arrival of her son’s casket.
For support, she could turn to military chaplains and counselors, all close at hand. But she found her greatest solace in time spent with other families whose lives had just been upended by loss.
A bomb had struck a Humvee in Afghanistan, killing her son, Army Green Beret, Capt. Joseph Shultz, 36, and two soldiers under his command, Staff Sgt. Martin Apolinar, 28, and Sgt. Aaron Blasjo, 25.
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In a brick house set aside for lodging, the three families of these fallen gathered in the kitchen to await the late-night arrival of a plane carrying the coffins. Sharing a meal of soup and salad, they told stories about the lives of those just lost. They talked about what they were doing when they first got the news, and a shared sense of disbelief that it could be true.
After the families left, Schultz lingered at the base for several days until she could persuade the military to allow some time alone with her son. Then she flew back to Port Angeles, where she operated a bed-and-breakfast, to face the future without her only child.
The families who have lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan form a tiny, at times, isolated fraternity in this nation. They, too, are among the wars’ wounded, and their toughest struggles often unfold long after the honor- guard escorts, funerals and memorial services conclude.
Next year in Port Angeles, if all goes according to plan, families of military personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan will have a new place where they can come together: a retreat center in Schultz’s former B & B, a Tudor-style home that is now called Capt. Joseph House in honor of her lost son.
“I met one family who had not even taken a vacation since their son died in Iraq in 2006. This is an opportunity to say that you’re not forgotten,” Schultz said. “We will re-create a healing space where they can be together with other families, and do as little or as much as they want.”
“Like a barn-raising”
During the past two years, the Port Angeles community has rallied around the Capt. Joseph House Foundation, holding a choral concert, an auction and other fundraisers, with some putting in long hours of their time to help organize the nonprofit or solicit supplies. Others have pledged to donate sailing trips, motorboat tours and other activities that will be offered free of charge to the families who stay at the house. There also will be no lodging charges.
Some of the volunteer support has come from Vietnam veterans such as Tom Cox, a Port Angeles retiree who has worked with Schultz for the past year.
“When we were in Vietnam, we lost guys in the unit and were concerned about their families. But then there was nothing that we could do about it; we grieved and moved on,” said Cox, who served as an Army air traffic controller in Vietnam.
“This project is for the families. Betsy has made that very, very clear. I just knew that this is where I would put my efforts. It’s kind of payback.”
The nonprofit Schultz created still is a bare-bones operation. It’s raised about $100,000 in cash, far short of the $900,000 it will take to staff and operate the retreat center.
So far, major donors have balked at extending long-term funding to a small nonprofit that has yet to begin delivering services. Schultz admits to plenty of sleepless hours wondering where the rest of the money will come from.
Somehow, she is convinced the rest of the money will arrive. Buoyed by the volunteer contributions, this week she is launching a $495,000 renovation that will expand the kitchen, add a sun room, turn bedrooms into three family suites and create intricate landscaped gardens.
“It’s kind of like a barn-raising,” said Schultz’s brother, Bob Stokes, a Port Angeles sculptor who is working on a bronze statue of a woman and fatherless child for the gardens.
He wanted to help
For Schultz, founding Capt. Joseph House has been part of her own healing process. She raised her son as a single parent in Sacramento, where she worked for organizations that helped people with developmental disabilities. She moved to Port Angeles in 2000 to open the bed-and-breakfast.
Joseph Schultz graduated as a political-science major from the University of Oregon, a handsome young man who quickly found his feet after graduation. He helped to open then-California Gov. Gray Davis’ office in Washington, D.C., and later found work in the State Department during the Clinton administration.
After the Democrats were ousted from the White House in 2000, he embarked on a work-study program to Israel, where he spent a year on a kibbutz in the Negev Desert.
“He kind of lost his zeal for politics,” says Jim Deboo, a childhood friend from California. “He came to the conclusion that politics wasn’t what he thought it was. It was more about brokering power, and less about getting things done.”
Joseph Schultz returned home just after 9/11, sobered both by the bombings that had wracked Israel that year and the shock of the Al- Qaida attacks on his home soil. At the age of 27, he joined the Army and then, based out of North Carolina, repeatedly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He first served as an intelligence officer and later as a Green Beret.
“He wanted desperately to help people, and this was his way,’’ recalls Jennifer Wettstein, a college classmate who now serves on the board of the Capt. Joseph House Foundation.
Friends say Joseph Schultz did not have much to say about Iraq. But he appeared energized by his work in Afghanistan, where he talked about helping make villages safe for children to play and girls to go to school, according to Wettstein.
“If he had frustrations, he was far too professional to share them,” said Wettstein. “One thing that you know that never changed was his passion for life. It was humbling from day one, and he got that from her (his mother).”
The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend 2011, Schultz got the news that her son was killed in Afghanistan. A 14-year-old boy had detonated the bomb.
Schultz was consoling a friend who had just received a sobering medical diagnosis about her son. Then her cellphone rang, and a friend said she should return to the B & B. There, she met a captain and chaplain from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Two years later, the grieving, the tears and an overwhelming sense of loss remain part of her life. But she often recalls something Joseph once told her: If he died, he did not want her to curl up in a ball and hide from the world.
So, she keeps her focus on opening the Capt. Joseph House.
“Maybe it takes one of those of us who have lost someone to keep the candle burning,” Schultz says.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org