by BETH SHAYNE / NewsChannel 36
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With a tiny cap that says "Marines" and a camouflage blanket wrapped around him, there is no mistaking it: tiny Walter Alan Marsh is a military baby. His mom Emily jokes that his first words will be "Hoo-rah."
Like lots of military babies, Walter's dad Darrell was overseas when he was born Monday, serving his fourth tour in the war zone. When he left for Afghanistan in October, he knew he'd miss the birth of his first son, but -- as much as they could be, given the circumstances -- his family was prepared.
Enter Flat Darrell.
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The full-size cardboard cutout of Darrell in full military dress came about as a joke early on in Emily and Darrell's engagement. "He was in 29 Palms (California), and I was here...He's been to wedding showers, baby showers, and parties—anything Darrell couldn’t make," Emily explains.
Flat Darrell was even a stand-in at the rehearsal for their wedding last December, when real Darrell got snowed in. (He made it to the wedding.)
At Presbyterian Hospital though, where his wife gave birth, Flat Darrell became a star. Staff let the Marshes snap pictures with Flat Darrell just minutes after Walter was born. There are pictures of Flat Darrell looking at his son through the nursery windows. Family members get pictures with the cutout when they stop by. Emily says she's even seen hospital staff pop in just to meet Flat Darrell.
As for real Darrell, "He’s ready to see him and hold him. Wants to know that he has all 10 fingers, and all 10 toes, and hair," Emily says.
She's been able to talk with her husband twice since Walter was born. His family is sending photos of Flat Darrell via Facebook. Real Darrell even left a video of himself reading to his newborn.
It'll be a while though before Darrell can see Walter in the flesh. His next leave is scheduled for June, where he'll get two weeks with his family. He's supposed to return home next October.
"When I realized he wasn’t going to meet this baby until--earliest he might get home--is June. I told my husband, as much as I knew there was a sacrifice, it really did hit home then," maternity nurse Donna Spehar told Newschannel 36.
Emily says Flat Darrell is moving into the nursery when Walter comes home, so he can see his dad regularly. "I can show him to him. 'There’s Daddy. That’s what he looks like, just rounder,'" she jokes.