Written by "60 Minutes" producer Henry Schuster.
I stared at the e-mail with disbelief. The header read "Sad News."
"In case you have not heard, Lt. Nick Bourgeois from Co G 2/8 was killed in an automobile accident yesterday. Not sure of many of the details or any plans, but I thought y'all would like to know.
Hard to believe he could lead his Marines through so much in Afghanistan and lose his life driving the roads of the USA. He was a great young man and will be sorely missed. Just hate that his children will miss out on the opportunity to grow up with him."
The e-mail was from Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss, who commanded the 2/8 when we were with them last summer in Helmand Province. Co G 2/8 stands for Golf Company of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. If you've seen our story, you know seven of Golf Company's men were killed in action last summer.
We were there when one of these Marines, Lance Corporal David Hall, was killed by an IED planted by the Taliban. We were there when all seven were remembered in a memorial service by their comrades. Those were wrenching experiences yet in some ways understandable. People die during war (although, it must be said, no civilians died while Golf Company was deployed in the Garmsir district of Helmand).
But now? A traffic accident? This didn't seem like sad news, it seemed cruel.
I met Nick Bourgeois minutes after arriving at Golf Company's combat outpost in the village of Koshtay last August. Sure, he said, I'll take you on patrol. And after putting on our body armor and going through the pre-mission briefing, we came along as Lt. Bourgeois and his Marines moved from compound to compound, village to village, in the broiling sun.
Throughout that afternoon's patrol, and every mission he was on, Bourgeois was patient, careful, watchful and fully engaged with local villagers. He was polite and respectful, which counts for a lot in Pashtun culture, always looking for more information; always offering help; trying to woo the men away from the Taliban.
He knew that any patrol could come under attack; that the next footstep might set off an IED. But like the rest of Golf Company, he embraced the risk.
"In Afghanistan, Nick pressed the limits. He would go out on every patrol if you let him. There was nothing that he wouldn't do to get out of the wire. That's what makes it harder to believe he went this way," said Captain Matt Martin, who commanded Golf Company.
During our down-time with Golf Company, Bourgeois told us about his family, growing up in Louisiana and, of all things, Cajun-style beef jerky. His family owns a famous and popular smokehouse and when he left the Corps, he wanted to join the business and carry on that tradition.
Captain Martin had lunch with Bourgeois last month. It was the day before Bourgeois and his family would drive cross-country from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to Camp Pendleton, Calif. They spent time looking through their cruise book, which had photos from their deployment in Afghanistan. And they talked about Bourgeois' next assignment.
Bourgeois had done tours with the 2/8 in Iraq and Afghanistan. His next assignment, which likely would have been his last before leaving the Marine Corps, was something he was eager to begin. An avid practitioner of martial arts, he had just finished the black belt instructor course at Quantico, said Martin, and he would be leading the martial arts instruction for new Marines at Pendleton. Bourgeois had also been told he was being promoted to captain.
All that was left was the drive.
They were on the interstate, going through Arizona. Miranda Bourgeois was in the family van with their two young boys, Schriever and David; Nick was following in a rental truck loaded with household gears.
Miranda was several cars ahead of Nick. She said she glanced up in the rear view mirror and noticed the truck veering towards the median, then saw it flip over. She lost sight as she went over a hill. She pulled over. So did another car and after that couple agreed to look after the boys, Miranda went back to check on her husband.
"The U-Haul was pretty much crushed. I had to step over our stuff scattered on the highway. I was able to get over to the cab. There was not much I could see. His arm was still moving a little bit," said Miranda.
Someone tried to give first aid. A state trooper arrived and gently suggested she might be more comfortable staying with her children. Medevac helicopters came and went, taking others injured in the accident.
But Nick Bourgeois, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, didn't make it. He died on that interstate in Arizona.
Miranda Bourgeois was kind enough to tell me what happened. And to talk about her husband. They met at the Naval Academy as freshmen, were assigned to the same company. He was from Louisiana. She was from Ohio. Nick was deeply religious and soon she too became a devout Christian. Miranda was going to be a Marine officer but said God changed her mind.
The two of them couldn't be together if they both stayed at the Academy, so she left after her sophomore year. They got married in the chapel at Annapolis soon after Nick graduated.
Here's what Miranda Bourgeois wants you to know about her husband: "He left and came back [from Afghanistan] the same guy. He lost Marines over there. He knew who he was. It affected him that he lost those men. But it didn't change who he was, making him afraid or skeptical. He knew that God had a plan for everything."
"He loved God, loved his family and was ready to die for his country. That's how I would like him to be remembered."
Her faith - and Nick's - has helped her. Nick Bourgeois' promotion to captain came through shortly before his funeral.
Written by Henry Schuster