Vicki Dickinson doesn’t remember much about the two years after her son was killed. Between the funeral, the tears and the coping, everything felt like a blur.
But she does recall one moment in perfect detail. About a year after Army Staff Sgt. Michael Dickinson II’s 2006 death in Iraq – while walking through one of a string of airports that are all fuzzy to her now – she visited her first USO.
Michael, a Battle Creek, Michigan, native, had told his mother about his visits to USO centers around the world.
“He would always try to find the USO and chill,” she said of her son, who was killed in a firefight nine days before he was supposed to come home. “And he’d say ‘Yeah mom, they’re great. They’ve always got great snacks, things to drink. They’ve got nice comfortable place[s] to lay down, take a little nap if you need it.’”
So when she had a few minutes between flights that day, Vicki went to a USO airport center to see for herself.
“It was kind of like a piece of home to him,” she said.
She walked into the center and told a volunteer about her son and his fondness for the USO. She asked to take a look around so she could see where her son relaxed between flights.
After a volunteer offered her a quick tour and refreshments, Vicki settled into one of the cozy couches and quietly pictured her son – a husband with a total of five children and stepchildren – resting on a similar couch a few years prior.
“[I thought] ‘I can see him here. I can see him on that couch, playing a game,’” she said. “It made me feel good that my son got to do that. That he knew that he was cared about. And he knew he had a safe place to go and just relax.”
After shedding few tears, Vicki collected herself and headed out of the center to catch her flight.
As she was leaving, a volunteer handed her a camo Beanie Baby to remember her USO visit. She still displays that bear in her home.
“It made me feel good, it really did,” she said. “And it let me see a part of my son’s life that I’d never gotten a chance to see.”
Vicki still thinks about that quiet moment she had in the USO center.
“It’s a new memory you can make at a time when you can’t get any new ones,” she said.