Spouse of Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Donnelly
2nd Marine Division,
Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Nicole Donnelly has received a baptism by fire into the military life. She married Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Donnelly nearly four years ago while he was on his boot camp leave.
“None of my family had been in the military, but I had listened to the stories from his father, who was in the Marine Corps,” Nichole said.
Donnelly, who was with the 2nd Marine Division out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., was soon deployed to the Middle East, a huge adjustment for a new military spouse.
“I took things as they came, but nothing can prepare you for your husband going to Iraq,” Nichole said.
Donnelly returned from that tour, only to be sent again in July 2005. By then, the Donnelly’s had two young daughters, MaKayla, 3, and Alyssa, 2. Nicole was 5 ½ months pregnant when her husband left. It was also on the day her mother died at age 45 of breast cancer she had fought for nearly 10 years.
It was tough, but Nichole got through it all, surviving a scare when Donnelly was wounded by an IED on Sept. 18. He refused medical attention in order to save the life of another Marine, which earned him a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
A roadside bomb in Iraq blew up a vehicle on Nov. 15. It struck Donnelly, who was 50-feet away.
“There’s no words to explain hearing that he had only a five percent chance of living,” Nichole said. The family now lives in Suffolk.
Nichole and her children flew to Germany where Donnelly was taken. He was later transferred to the Naval hospital at Bethesda, Md.
Shrapnel had ripped the right side of his neck from his ear lobe to his collar bone, where he almost bled out,” Nichole said. “His left leg, between the leg and ankle, was fractured in 18 places and had a soft-ball sized hole. We had to fight to keep his leg.”
Nichole remained by her husband’s side for six weeks as Donnelly went through 26 surgeries, skin grafts and wearing an external fixator for six months in order to save his leg.
“It was very difficult,” Nichole admits now. “I honestly don’t know how I did it.”
Recovering from the physical wounds was just the beginning for Donnelly. His best friend was killed in the suicide car bomb attack.
“There were times when he wanted to give up. But he’s such a fighter. I didn’t want him to give in to what happened. I didn’t leave his side for a day. He’s too much of a Marine and brave person to allow that to happen.”
In his nomination form, Donnelly credits his wife with his recovery so he was able to re-enlist. He’s now a career retention specialist for the next two years, hoping to return to his infantry battalion.
“She helped me find who I am again and stayed by me step by step in my long, hard recovery,” he wrote. “She never gave up. She is the most remarkable military wife you could ever meet.”