In 1991, Kentucky residents Sally Edwards and Lue Hutchinson had sons serving in the Gulf War. Sally's son, Jack, was a Marine captain. Lue's son, Tom Butts, was a staff sergeant in the Army. The two men never knew each other, but today, their mothers are best friends.
Both soldiers were killed in February of 1991. Jack was 34. "They were the cover for a medical mission. The helicopter lost its top rotor blade, and they didn't make it back," Sally says.
After Lue's son joined the Army in 1979, "he did something absolutely stupid: He learned how to jump out of perfectly good airplanes," she says. "But he loved it." She learned he died the last day of the war. He was 31.
"I worked in Wal-Mart, and we found out the war had ended. I was ecstatic when I went home and came home to a driveway full of cars — not knowing at that time, until my stepson came out and told me Tommy was gone," she says.
His death was in the newspaper, and Sally saw it.
"I wanted somebody to talk to because it wasn't like World War II and Vietnam when everybody had a neighbor who'd lost somebody, so I wrote to you. I thought if you responded maybe I'd have somebody that I could talk to about how you felt and how I felt," Sally says.
The letter, Lue says, spoke to her: "Those words, 'If you need help and you want to talk, I'm here,' and that's what I needed."
And that's what Sally needed, too, she says, or else she wouldn't have reached out. "The last 22 years would have been hell without you, Lue."
"It would have been hell without you, too," Lue says.
"Because what's in our hearts we share," Sally says.
"When you're the mother and your child dies in that horrific way, the memory gets tolerable but never really, really goes away," Lue says.
"I don't know what I would do if on a bad day, I couldn't pick up the phone and call you and share it," Sally says.
"Neither could I."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon.