Holly Everett wears a titanium bracelet with her husband's name engraved on it because she cannot bear to look at her wedding rings.
"I would cry every time I saw them," said Everett, the 33-year-old wife of French Valley Marine Sgt. Justin Avery Everett,
"It was a very difficult decision but I had to take them off," Holly, 35, said. "So now they are tucked away for my kids to use someday."
The couple celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary just five days before the fatal crash in which six other Marines were killed. The accident, which is still under investigation, occurred during a training exercise over the Chocolate Mountains.
During an interview with Patch in their French Valley home, Holly recalled the first time they met.
Originally from Riverside, Holly moved to Fresno to be near her sister. She went to enroll in a gym that was advertising a $15 per month enrollment fee. The gym employee who greeted her was Justin.
"I was just like 'wow,'" she said. "I walked out paying $85 a month. He took me for my money."
A few days passed before he called and asked her out on a date. Nine months later they were married. Shortly after, he enlisted in the Marines.
"He said the Marines were the best, he didn't even check into the others," she said. "...He loved being a Marine; he loved flying, he just loved his job."
Justin had already served 10 years, including deployments to war zones such as Iraq, so Holly was accustomed to being on her own. She said that may be why at times it "just hasn't set in yet" that he is gone.
He planned on retiring in the Marines. With Justin stationed at Camp Pendleton, the couple purchased a home in French Valley three years ago. Together they had Avery, 5, and Jacob, 2 1/2. Avery was given her father's middle name and her mother's middle name.
A canvas portrait of Justin that was hangs in Jacob's bedroom. Holly said she is not sure if Jacob comprehends what happened to his daddy, but that he has a lot of his looks.
"Avery understands; she has cried," Holly said.
"He was a great dad and an awesome husband. Like when I was a surrogate and I was carrying twins for another couple. During that time—all the while knowing I was carrying babies for someone else—he was so supportive."
She recalled the moment she realized something was off.
If he was "flying late," as he was that day, he usually arrived home by 2 a.m. At 4 a.m., she awoke and found he was not home yet. Thus began a torrent of text messages and phone calls—and finally Google searches—to try and locate him, she recounted.
His family and her family arrived for a private memorial service that was held for the Marine sergeant at a funeral home in Temecula.
"I didn't want the media there," she recalled.
"It was all just a blur," said Holly, who just returned home May 14 from a month of visiting family members in different parts of the country.
"I knew it was going to be hard to be here," she said.
She said the support from her family along with Justin's family, friends and co-workers has been amazing, as has the community's.
Skybox Grill & Tavern on nearby Benton Road hung a plaque Saturday that was donated in memory of Justin.
And Holly said she came home to numerous gift cards and condolences from "people I don't even know."
Planning for Memorial Day has been bittersweet.
"My dad was a Marine and my sister was a Marine so I have always given thanks but this is quite different," Holly said.
She wishes for a quiet place to remember him. Based upon Justin's wishes, he was cremated and his ashes spread from a Huey helicopter over the Chocolate Mountains.
Ironically, she said, it was the same location of the crash.
In honor of Justin, about 30 family and friends gathered Saturday at the Everett's French Valley home for a crawdad feast.
"When Justin was younger they used to catch them and eat them," she said.
On Monday, Holly and several others who were close to Justin will head to Camp Pendleton where a wall is engraved with the names of fallen Marines. She hopes to memorialize him in the best way she can.
Justin had talked with his three brothers about what should be done if he were to ever die, she said.
"They were to tell me that he loved me and that he wanted me to be happy."
She has found ways to smile just remembering him.