Words by Jan Brand | Photography by Killingsworth Photography
On a warm, windy day, April 19, 1775, greatness found a place in history when a group of farmers, merchants, blacksmiths and coopers ran to Lexington, Massachusetts square, clutch- ing muskets in hand, as they confronted the mighty British
army. That day, the new Americans struck a blow for freedom with a shot heard around the world. And, from that day, freedom became the country’s greatest export.
Gail Joyce seemed an unlikely person to find her place in the pages of history along with those men who “pledged their lives, their fortunes and their most sacred honor” to give us this great nation.
Growing up a hundred miles west of Granbury in Abilene, she was born into an active, athletic family, and was a cheerleader at Abilene High School the three consecutive years they won the state championship. One of her brothers quarterbacked for the team and a cousin was the center. Football fever dominated their lives, and the Dallas Morning News called them, “The team of the century.” In Texas, Friday night meant high school football. Boosters took trains, buses and car caravans to get to games all over the state.
From 1957-1959 Gail attended Texas Tech University in Lubbock and worked in the Athletic Department. She left school early due to illness. Back in Abilene, when she recovered, she went to work for an oil company and volunteered at the Abilene Community Theater.
Larry Joyce attended Hardin Simmons, and he and a friend liked to frequent the community theater where Gail volunteered, to heckle the melodrama onstage. When she asked him if they were “Stage-door Johnnies,” he replied, “No, we’re stage-door Larrys,” since he and his friend had the same first name.
After a five-month courtship, Larry boiled her over with the suave of an up-and-coming military man and a proposal that got right to the point, “How would you like to get married and move to Germany?” Little did she know she had signed on for a dizzying life with a patriotic man on a mission. They were married, and their first son, Steve, was born while they were still in Abilene.
Larry finished Hardin Simmons as the ROTC’s Distinguished Military Graduate. He was also president of the world-famous HSU Cowboy Band.
Shortly after graduation they moved to Fort Hood, Texas where Larry went through basic train- ing. It was the first of twenty moves over the next twenty years for Gail and the children. Arriving in Germany as a second lieutenant, Larry took up his post as public affairs officer for the European Command in Stuttgart.
Gail started a theater group. Son, Steve, was a good athlete, but he liked to act too. He played quarterback in football and short-stop in baseball.
Their daughter, Sancy, was born in Germany. Sancy was a swimmer and won several competition ribbons.
In the mid-sixties Larry did two tours of duty in Vietnam and he continued to climb in rank.
After returning to Texas, Larry attended Texas Tech in Lubbock to get his Masters’ Degree in mass communication, with an emphasis in journalism. This degree helped promote him to lieutenant colonel and the post of general manager of the European-Middle East edition of the Stars and Stripes, the premier newspaper for the military and their families.
James Casey Joyce was born at Fort Rucker, Alabama in 1969. He loved to play football and baseball, and like his dad, he liked to write. He wrote short stories. At North Texas University he couldn’t decide what he wanted to do after graduation and decided to join the army.
His father tried to talk him out of it. Casey had a temper and had lived a sheltered life. Larry warned him about basic training—the training sergeant wouldn’t care about his feelings. Gail reminded him she wouldn’t be there to make milk shakes and pudding, his favorite things.
Casey was determined. He wanted to be an Army Ranger and went to Fort Benning, Georgia for training.
His first call home, he said, “I met him.” “Who?” His dad asked.
“The devil,” Casey said. The drill sergeant had thrown the guy standing next to him against a wall.
Larry and Gail attended his graduation from Ranger school. His unit was sent to Arizona for training. The military operation in Somalia was to bring food and humanitarian aid to the starving people and to take out Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the de facto head of Somalia.
The night of October 3, 1993, Gail was in San Diego with her sisters. She was there to kick off the curriculum for the Smoke-free class of 2000.
That day they had gone across the border to eat lobster in Old Mexico. After a long day she watched TV and saw President Bill Clinton come on the screen to offer his condolences to the families of the men lost in Somalia. It crossed her mind that it might include Casey, then dismissed it until she got the call from Larry. A Ranger and the chaplain at Fort Benning had visited Casey’s wife, DeAnna, and she called to give Larry the heartbreaking news. DeAnna and Casey had been married less
than three years. Larry had been packing a bag of goodies for his son, which included a new Sony player and he had recorded new music for Casey.
Casey was killed by a sniper in the Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia, October 3, 1993. The movie Black Hawk Down immortalized the sacrifice of eighteen brave young men.
At Fort Benning, nineteen-year-old Rangers on Casey’s team came to DeAnn, Gail and Larry, one at a time, and shared their stories of how their husband and son had lived and died a hero. They too had lost someone close to them. Casey was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Frustrated by the ill-conceived planning of the military operation in Somalia, Larry took to his pen and paper and used his skills as a journalist to write about it in Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, Dallas Morning News and the New York Times. He believed there weren’t enough men or sufficient equipment for such a battle. He and Gail met Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on an airplane and told their story. That opened an opportunity for Larry to testify before the senate’s Armed Services Committee. President Clinton even invited them to the White House.
Six years later, and just six weeks after Gail and Larry moved into their new home in Pecan Plantation, Larry died of leukemia. Lieutenant Colonel Larry Emmett Joyce joined his son, Sergeant James Casey Joyce in Arlington National Cemetery.
In the great American tradition of those women in history who gave their husbands and sons to make the world a freer, better place, Gail carries on by helping others as a national committee member for MOAA (Military Officer’s Association of America), an advocacy group that fights for benefits for surviving spouses.
Since 2015, Gail has been the information specialist at the Granbury Visitor’s Center, informing tourist about the attractions of the city—what to do, and where to go. In 2012, she created and produced the Memorial Day Field of Flags to honor fallen heroes.
As long as there is a United States of America, there will be Gail, Larry and Casey Joyce’s who give everything for others to be free.