Connie Sacks glows as she speaks of her husband, Max Sacks. A former soldier, Sacks was a contract tactical medical instructor with a government agency working in Afghanistan. On July 29, a little more than two months ago, the Taliban ambushed a convoy Max Sacks was traveling with. After helping get his crew to safety, he died from his injuries.
And now, Connie Sacks is lost. Her husband of almost 10 years was her soul mate, her anchor. They did everything together and enjoyed each other in everything they did. Now he's gone. While the pain is still evident through Connie's tears and voice tinged with emotion as she talks about Max, it is equally evident that the love is still very much alive.
The pair met at Gold's Gym in 2000, and became friends. Soon, however, they each realized there was more to their partnership, and on Dec. 13, 2003, Max proposed.
"We were on the Metter golf course," she recalled, fiddling with Max's dog tags she wears around her neck. "He had the ring in the ninth hole. Everybody knew about it but me."
When Connie missed the putt, she went to the hole and saw something inside. After she opened the box, Max knelt and proposed, and several friends walked out from the clubhouse with champagne.
A mixture of joy and pain from the memory washes over Connie's face as tears trickle down her cheek. Her living room is filled with photos of her smiling husband, of the couple together. The spirit of Max Sacks is almost tangible as his wife shares memories.
"He was bigger than life," she said.
Max lost his parents at an early age. He joined the United States Army at age 18. Later in life, after he met Connie, he wanted to re-enlist, but an injury made him ineligible. However, Max discovered a way he could help with the war effort without being in the military. A trained medic, he became employed with a government agency that provided training to Afghans and other services, and he soon found himself in Afghanistan.
"There is such a need for medics and teaching people," Connie said. "Max worked with a team of Italian doctors and he had other friends who worked over there."
Those friends contacted Connie after Max's death and told her how often he spoke of her. One man wrote "I wanted to tell you what you may already know ... I'm not even sure why I feel compelled to reach out to you ... Max adored you... The man was just stupid in love with you."
Max was en route for medical supplies and mail when his group was targeted for an ambush in a remote area, she said. He was shot in the chest, but "He was a true hero," she said. "He was able to help get them (himself and the others) out of the location after his injury.
But Max died at the hospital. When military officials came to Connie's business, a local spa, to tell her the sad news, "I almost passed out," she said. "I just knew."
But she didn't want to believe it.
"I felt like he was invincible," she said. "He was a protector and a healer. He loved everybody. I feel like his life was cut short. He was such an important part of so many lives - he had so much to give."
He was an excellent gourmet cook, remodeled their home, and loved to play golf. He never allowed Connie to open her own door, and met her after a long day at work with a glass of wine and a bubble bath waiting.
He always wanted to help people, she said. His larger-than-life personality is one reason the Carlsbad Army Navy Academy in Carlsbad, Calif., is offering a scholarship in his name.
He also loved to dance, and the couple would often dance in their living room.
"He was everybody's friend. He had no enemies," said Ruth O'Brien, a friend of the family. "Connie has even got letters from an Afghan interpreter who said he would miss him."
Sayed Hamed, the interpreter in Shouz, wrote: "... Mr. Max died for something. He died for peace, for our freedom. I am really sorry when people like him die; we lose our hope (for) freedom.
"He was a good friend, brother and a boss. Everyone who knows him
should proud of him because he lost his life for the poor people who don't know what's (sic) freedom ... he lost his life like a hero."
Connie smiles as she shares the countless letters from others who loved her husband. For a moment, it's as if he is still alive, and in the room with her.
Sometimes it feels like he is, she said. She wears a bracelet Max made from parachute cord, still stained with his blood. It may be strange to some, but having it makes her feel closer to him. So does the tinkle of wind chimes on her back porch when there is no breeze. She and Max always spoke of how the phenomenon was proof that his father was with them; now, Connie feels it may be Max saying hello.
One thing that bothered Max was how the media portrays the war in Afghanistan. Only the negative reports are told, she said.
"He truly believed he was helping," she said of Max's work overseas. "He said ‘If they (American citizens) could walk a day in our shoes, and see what we see,' it would be different."
Max was honored with a traditional military service, and the folded American flag from that service is the centerpiece of a memorial shrine Connie set up in her living room. His body was cremated, and "when I am ready, Max wanted to be released on a beach somewhere."
October 10 would have been the couple's anniversary. They married in the back yard, beside the pool and the deck he built. And as that day approaches, Connie will celebrate without her husband, but with his memory still very much alive in her heart. The love is still alive, she admitted, and shows with the light in her eyes as she speaks of the man she adored.
"He made you feel like you were the most beautiful person in the world," she said.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.