In front of Tom and Vicki Apsey's pink stucco home in Brandon, Fla., there's a sign that reads: "Proud Parents of a U.S. Marine." Their son, Josh, banned the sign from going up until after he got through boot camp. And he insisted: No yellow ribbon on the tree until after he deployed.
"He didn't want the sign in there, he didn't want the stickers on the car," says Josh's father, Tom, a police officer who works the night patrol. "It's almost like, until he's done something — you know, he wanted to earn the right to have all of that," adds his mother, Vicki, who stays home to raise the couple's daughter.
Lance Cpl. Josh Apsey is serving in southern Afghanistan with the Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment — known as "America's Battalion." They have been there for four months now. The Marines are operating from remote bases, where there is no easy way to stay in touch with family — just old-fashioned letters home and the occasional phone call.
Back home, Tom and Vicki Apsey wait for any word from their Marine. Vicki has always kept a journal, and that's where she tucks away her son's letters. She thumbs through the journal, and after flipping back and forth, she finds what she's looking for: a small envelope with one piece of notepaper.
Josh wrote the letter the day after his 19th birthday. She reads it aloud: "I wish I could say I had a happy birthday, but last night we lost two Marines in an IED blast. It's sad, but you move on quick."
He got to talk with his mom the same day he wrote that letter. Vicki remembers the call; she says Josh sounded stressed telling her about the Marines who died. She told him: "I'm praying for you, don't worry."
"And he goes, 'Mom, pray for my friends,' " she recalls.
Josh calls home about every 10 days. Vicki usually gets the calls — rarely when her husband's around. Just then, the phone rings in the other room.
"Oh, answer it," Vicki calls. Tom picks up: "Hey, Josh. How you doing, son? ... I'm doing great. It's great to hear from you. ... Listen, I know your mom wants to talk to you, and I love you, and I miss you, and I just can't wait to see you, son."
Then Vicki gets on the line. "Hey, I haven't talked to you in so long," she tells her son.
They talk about the Mustang Josh will buy when he comes home. Vicki tells him about the new puppy, what his sister is up to, and that his granddad walked a marathon in his honor.
The call lasts for 12 minutes. Then it's over.
When he got on that bus and headed to Afghanistan back in May, his dad says he became a man. His parents can hear it on the phone.
"I'm afraid that he's already got me out beat by anything I've ever been through in my life," Tom says, "so I'll definitely be all ears when he comes back home."
And when he returns, they say it will be up to Josh to decide when and how much he wants to tell them about his time as a Marine at war.