In loving memory of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Donna R. Johnson, who gave the ultimate sacrifice to our nation in Afghanistan on Monday, October 1, 2012. Staff Sergeant Johnson is survived by her wife, Tracy Dice.
Donna Johnson and Tracy Dice were married on Valentine’s Day of 2012 in a simple but intensely meaningful ceremony befitting their 5 1/2-year relationship. “We were going to get married after getting back from our first deployments together, but I wanted more than a domestic partnership or just a commitment ceremony for us,” says Tracy. “I wanted a marriage for her. I don’t know why, but that’s what I wanted for her.” So in a whirlwind trip, Donna and Tracy traveled to Washington, DC, together and tied the knot this past February.
The couple wanted to wed sooner, but they also worried that their military careers might be jeopardized if anyone found out while “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still in place. After repeal of the law was solidly and successfully implemented, Donna and Tracy decided that the time was right to take the next step in their lives together. “I know it’s cliché, but being married changed me so dramatically,” Tracy admits. “I felt myself change emotionally and spiritually. I honestly grew more and more in love with her.”
Tracy and Donna last spoke by phone on Sunday, September 30th, in what Tracy recalls as a happy call. As the conversation concluded, Donna mentioned that she would be busy the next day but assured her wife that she would definitely call her again on Monday. As they said goodbye to one another, Tracy recalls cautioning herself against thinking that their relationship was too perfect, even though all seemed to be going perfectly well. But Tracy embraced the philosophy that if improvement is no longer sought (in anything), then God may take it away from you.
When Tracy awoke the following morning and had not yet heard from Donna again, she immediately began searching the media, which she had thus far avoided doing since Donna deployed. When she came face to face with a news report about a suicide bomber attack against U.S. military personnel in Khowst, Afghanistan that day, her worst fears began to set in.
“I knew it was her immediately,” she recalled. “I started calling other spouses and when they had not heard from their loved ones either, I knew they were on blackout.” Soon thereafter, Tracy and the rest of the Johnson family were notified of the horrific news. Donna had been among the three U.S. service members killed in the line of duty that day.
Premonitions can be eerily accurate sometimes, and Tracy says that a gut feeling haunted her before Donna’s final deployment: “I had a feeling before she left that I was never going to see her again. I guess that’s why I never got tired of talking to her. Each day was a surprise and was precious. I knew it, and I loved it.”
Tracy and Donna had thankfully made the most of their time together. The two loved to travel and the beach was Donna’s favorite place to go. ”We lived life fully this past year and we left no stone unturned,” Tracy recalls. “We lived as the song said, ‘Live Like You Were Dying.’ And we did.”
Donna was very a private person, but if she allowed you into her inner circle then you really got to know what a wonderful human being she was. “I am glad she chose me for that inner-most circle,” Tracy says. Although they hailed form different parts of the country, Tracy made the decision to settle down with Donna in North Carolina because Donna loved her home state so much. Although she knows that Donna would have moved back to Tracy’s home state of Indiana with her had she really wanted her to, Tracy just did not have the heart to take Donna away from the home she loved so much. So instead, they made their home there together in North Carolina and never looked back.
Tracy says that the military has treated her as Donna’s spouse in many aspects throughout this process. There are also many aspects where their hands are bound by law. “The military is a big machine with multiple operating parts,” she explains. “We often forget those parts are made of humans, and each one of those humans has treated me with kindness and love, with tears in their eyes as well for my grief. They may not officially recognize our marriage, but I have more than that. I had her love from our marriage and that means more to me.”
Likewise, Donna’s family continues to embrace Tracy as well. “Her family has treated me as her spouse and respects me as such,” she says. “I love her mother dearly. I sometimes think that the only reason Donna married me was because I was so much like her mother. And you know what? That’s not all that bad either.”