EL TORO — The buffet was set up for 12 at Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Gurule's home Thursday, but the talk was still of loneliness.
Among the guests at the Gurule's annual Thanksgiving dinner were young Marines who spoke about how empty the barracks are these days, about how it's been months since they've heard from this friend or that one.
On the living room couch, Anna Garza, 23, petite and brown-eyed, watched her two toddlers play with toy cars, gingerly resting her hand on her slightly bulging stomach. She is expecting her third child in late March.
Fortunately, the baby kicked for the first time about a week ago, a few days before his father, Jose Garza, a Marine Corps E-3 stationed at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station was called to serve in the Persian Gulf. He was thrilled, Anna Garza said, smiling with the memory but wondering whether her husband might miss other milestones.
"I'm hoping he'll be back before the baby starts doing all the fun things," said Garza, "like when he starts making faces and eating with a spoon. . . . What makes it harder is that Tino (her 4-year-old son) keeps asking for his daddy." Anna Garza waved goodby to her husband through the window of a bus on Tuesday morning at 4 a.m. Gurule, her husband's boss, was also there to see off Garza and "two of my others" who had been called to the sudden deployment.
Gurule made a point of inviting Anna to dinner, he said, just as her husband stepped onto the bus. "He had a look of relief. . . . I felt really heartbroken," Gurule recalled.
The comment seemed to slip out between the clipped and formal speech of the muscular career Marine. "Don't have a choice, ma'am," he said a few minutes later when asked about his own imminent deployment. "It's our job."
Gurule, and his wife, Cheryl, have made a tradition of hosting Thanksgiving dinners for Marines without relatives nearby and for families whose loved ones are at sea. Last year they served up three turkeys, three hams and mashed potatoes for about 60 guests who crowded into their small home and spilled into the back yard.
Just one turkey was enough this year. Some of those who attended last year's dinner are already in the Middle East, and many wives, with no certainty of when their husbands will return, have moved back to hometowns to be with parents or extended families.
"I put one on a plane just yesterday and I stood there and cried," said Cheryl Gurule, 35. "I was just thinking, 'Gosh, there's another one that I'm sending home.' "