What a love story from the Iraq War can teach us about social distancing

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- In these strange days of "social distancing" and "sheltering in place", the long-distance love affair between a married couple who used to call Fresno "home" could teach us a thing or two.

May 4th is James and Kathy Mitchell's 25th wedding anniversary, but it was their 10th anniversary, 15 years ago Monday, where this love story begins.

The beautiful bride was Kathy Mitchell, and her handsome groom was waiting for her nearly 8000 miles away in Iraq.

The year was 2005 and inside the ABC30 studios, Sgt. James Mitchell and his wife, Kathy, were about to renew their marriage vows on live TV, except James did his part via satellite from Camp Anaconda north of Baghdad.

The Pastor conducting the ceremony said, "Lord, we know that military life presents a special challenge for marriage."

Kathy Mitchell looked at the big TV monitor where her husband's image filled the screen and said, "Honey, are you there? Can you hear me? Happy anniversary!" and then she laughed.

The Mitchells married in 1995, in a North Carolina wedding chapel where James was stationed at the time. He promised Kathy then that they would finally have a big family wedding and renew their vows for their 10th wedding anniversary, no matter where they were.

When that 10th anniversary rolled around in 2005, James was serving an 18-month deployment in Iraq with the Fresno-based 729th Army Transportation Company.

Despite the war and thousands of miles, James kept his promise to Kathy with a marriage ceremony in front of their young children, family, and friends.

James said to Kathy, "You will always be my wife. I'll always be your husband, and there will be nothing able to separate us."

Kathy said to her husband, "James Ray Mitchell, with all my heart, and I promise to love you the rest of our lives."

Fifteen years later, the Mitchells now live in Reno, and their cute little kids are young adults.

Many of their belongings, including their wedding rings, were lost or stolen when they moved, but the memories of their made-for-TV wedding are all precious, especially a certain song.

Kathy said, "But I remember 'The Dance.' His favorite song, "You are the Sunshine of My Life" by Stevie Wonder. They were dancing, and we were dancing. It's just a very happy memory."

Just like their 10th anniversary, Kathy and James are spending their 25th anniversary apart. James has an "essential job," and he'll be on the road while Kathy waits at home again.

This couple doesn't dwell on being apart. They dwell on being together.

Kathy said she believes "No matter how far apart or how much time apart, nothing kills the love that you have. It only strengthens it, causes it to grow more."

James and Kathy also have a lot of room in their hearts for Fresno.

They say they'll always remember and appreciate the special friends and people who they met in Fresno, and that includes former Action News Anchor, Nancy Osborne, who reported on the Mitchells and the citizen-soldiers of the 729th, 15 years ago.
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