When Saddam Hussein was captured by American forces, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Michael McNulty was there.
“He was just so proud and humble,” Paula Boyer, McNulty’s wife, said. “But at the same time, he wasn’t gloating. It was not a time for gloating.”
Like his fellow Delta Force warriors, Mike’s chief concern was accomplishing a mission rather than worrying about who got the credit.
“He would never tell us what he was doing,” Paula said. “He would just say, ‘I have a job and I’ll be out of the loop’ ” for a certain amount of time.
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Growing up in northwest Chicago, Paula and Mike were high school sweethearts who would sneak around to see each other. Mike had already joined the Army when the couple married in January 1987.
“Our love was bigger than any love anyone could ever imagine,” Paula said.
Before she knew it, Paula was a military wife during the closing chapters of the Cold War. Even as they traveled around the world, the couple still welcomed four children in five years.
“He was a part of me and I was a part of him,” Paula said. “He couldn’t do his job without being whole, so we made each other whole.”
Mike, Paula and their children were at Louisiana’s Fort Polk when hijacked airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Shanksville field. They soon moved to Fort Bragg, N.C., where Mike quickly deployed to Afghanistan. With her husband in Special Operations during wartime, Paula knew the pattern would continue.
He wasn’t home much, Paula said, but when he was there, “he was 100 percent there.”
Hours before the world learned that U.S. troops had pulled ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein out of a spider hole near his hometown of Tikrit, Mike called Paula with a simple message: “I’m OK.” It wasn’t until he returned home that Paula fully understood how the day’s momentous events had affected him.
“He was glowing because it was such a historic moment and he was there,” Paula said. “He was just so proud to do something that he knows really affected the world and made the world a better place.”
Less than two years later, on April 8, 2005, Paula and one of the couple’s two daughters dropped Mike off at his post for another Iraq deployment.
“I was used to dropping him off and never really got emotional, but that ride home ... my daughter and I just bawled and bawled,” Paula said.
For the soldier’s wife of 18 years, the hardest part of Mike’s deployment wasn’t caring for four kids. It was waiting to hear from her husband.
“Until another phone call, time just stood still,” Paula said.
In the early-morning hours of June 17, 2005, Paula was about to go see her youngest son, Eric, graduate from Junior ROTC when six soldiers arrived at her home.
“I will never, ever, ever forget that day,” she said.
According to the Pentagon, Master Sgt. Michael McNulty, 36, and Master Sgt. Robert Horrigan, 40, had been killed by enemy fire while conducting combat operations in al-Qaim, Iraq.
“He was brought to the field hospital,” Paula said. “The unit doc did surgery, and Mike didn’t make it.”
For Paula and her four children, the world as they knew it had been shattered. The could only count on each other and the compassion of those around them.
“I received so many letters and cards from people ... so much support from the community,” Paula said. “It was just overwhelming.”
In more than eight years since the soldier’s death, his four children have made the difficult adjustment of growing up without their dad’s physical presence. But as Eric demonstrated by deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq, Mike’s spirit endures.
“He has a huge impact on us,” Paula said.
Paula Boyer has since remarried, but like her children, she will never forget an American hero who — to this day — is always there.
“I wouldn’t be who I am today without every part of Mike,” she said. “I will continue to live with him, for him and about him.”