Operation: Wedded Bliss

A soldier's love

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Sgt. David Stidham, of Payson, was stationed in Iraq when he met his sweetheart, Louise Rene, online.

Her profile in the personals section of yahoo.com piqued his interest because she was from Brazil, so he e-mailed her. They both love politics and the outdoors.

At first she didn't e-mail him back so he tried again. This time she responded.

"Once we started we just kept on talking ... she wrote great love letters," David said. "We had a lot in common."

David served with the Army National Guard's 2220th Transportation Company in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and participated in one tour of duty where he saw combat three times.

Louise and David's connection grew during his absence. She helped keep his spirits up during the final six months of his stay in Iraq.

The 2220th was supposed to be deployed for 12 months -- Louise and David were looking forward to meeting each other in February 2004.

Of course the Army had its own plans.

"David was always saying ‘I'm going to be home soon,' so I kept waiting and waiting," Louise said. "Every day the Army would tell the soldiers, within 48 hours you'll be going home. I would have these huge expectations. Then David would call back after the 48 hours and say, ‘I am still here. I'm not going yet.' I was so upset.'"

The couple would have to wait an extra two months before meeting.

Louise said she started questioning her feelings, wondering if she could really be falling in love with someone she hadn't met.

She worried about his safety, well-being, and whether he would make it home alive.

David arrived in Phoenix April 6, 2004. He came to Payson immediately to see his family. Two days later, he called Louise at her home in Mesa and said he was driving to the Valley so they could meet in person.

"When we were writing to each other, I really liked his personality," Louise said. "When he came to visit me he was this nice sweet guy, he brought me flowers. I was really excited about getting to know him and (the romance) becoming real after all the e-mails from Iraq."

The couple has been inseparable since that first date.

After a month of dating, over the chicken parmesan she prepared, Louise heard the words she longed to hear: "Louise I think I'm in love with you."

For Louise it was a great relief to tell David that she loved him too, but she waited until December to tell him she wanted to marry him.

David remembers thinking, "...Louise was the kind of person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and raise a family."

"The best part about him," she said, "is the peace he carries with him because he has seen all these different things and the experience he's had that have made him really grow."

Near Christmas, Louise brought up the marriage topic with David. He said he was thinking about marriage too, but had reservations about a commitment.

Several days later Louise overheard David talking to his father on the phone. He asked if he could use his backyard for a wedding.

The answer was yes.

Soon the whole family knew of the engagement and started asking whether the couple had set a date.

David chose Independence Day shortly before the fireworks for the ceremony. Gathering to watch the fireworks has long been a special tradition at his father's home, which is adjacent to Green Valley Park.

"I love the fireworks," David said. "Independence Day has always been my favorite holiday."

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