WAKEFIELD — Krista Simpson Anderson has forgiven the man who created the roadside bomb that killed her late husband, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Mike Simpson.
“God graces you with the ability to forgive,” Anderson, 40, said during a recent interview in her parents’ Wakefield home.
A year after her husband’s death in Afghanistan, Anderson said she learned from his unit that the man who created the bomb died while installing another improvised explosive device. While the soldiers cheered the news, Anderson took a more gracious view.
“You have to realize that man’s wife lost her husband and their kids lost a father too,” she said. “If his father was a cobbler, he probably would have been making shoes that day.”
Father Marcel Taillon, the pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Narragansett who is a family friend, said Anderson’s faith inspires him.
“Krista is an amazing Catholic,” Father Taillon said. “She just puts all her faith in Christ.”
In the last five years, Anderson, who grew up in the area and attended Salve Regina University, has been through a lifetime’s worth of grief, loss and newfound love. In March 2017, she married Gustaf “Gus” Anderson IV, a U.S. Army Special Forces master sergeant who had been friends with her late husband.
Anderson, a mother of two young boys from her first marriage, said the relationship caught them both by surprise, and that she had to get over what people would think and accept the fact that it was okay for her to move on and marry again. What made it easier was the fact that her former in-laws supported and encouraged her new relationship. Her boys also love their stepfather and call him Dad.
“Gus is an amazing husband and an amazing father,” she said.
How it all began
Anderson’s introduction to military life happened in 2006, when she met Mike Simpson, a soldier from Texas who went to a deployment party that Anderson’s aunt had organized in Massachusetts for one of her cousins. They hit it off.
“As good relationships start, I met him in a bar,” Anderson said with a laugh.
The couple continued their relationship while Simpson was stationed in Germany. In 2007, Simpson deployed for a 15-month combat tour in Iraq. Halfway through that tour, he returned home for a relative’s wedding in Texas. Anderson met him there, and he proposed to her the night before the wedding. They married a few months later, in December 2008.
Over the next 4 ½ years, the couple had two children — Michael and Gabriel — as the family moved around the country for Simpson’s military career. Like his father and older brother before him, Simpson was honored to be a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces.
“He was so proud to be a Green Beret. He would just tell everybody,” said Anderson, adding that Mike earned the joking nickname “The Unquiet Professional” for his enthusiasm about being in Special Forces.
Though Mike was Presbyterian, he respected Krista’s faith and the couple married in the Catholic Church. They baptized their kids Catholic, and attended Mass together on Sundays. Before his final deployment, Mike started Krista on a cover-to-cover study of the Bible.
“One of Mike’s greater qualities in my mind was he knew pretty much the basis of most religions,” Anderson said. “He knew how important faith was and he wanted to be able to respect it.”
In 2013, the family was living in Washington State. The year before, Mike had spent 8 ½ months away at training. Anderson’s parents traveled to Washington every other month to help their daughter.
“My family was a huge support system,” she said.
On April 26, 2013, about two weeks after arriving in Afghanistan, Mike and his comrades were returning to their base from a mission when the vehicle that Mike was traveling in drove over a roadside bomb.
The blast threw Mike backwards into the crater. He had lost a leg, damaged his right arm, and had a concussion. Shrapnel entered his body and perforated the pericardial sac around his heart. Despite that, he was conscious and applied the tourniquets that his teammates threw to him from outside the crater. They were prevented from immediately going inside the crater because of the risk of secondary bombs.
“I can’t even imagine the guilt they all feel,” Anderson said. “I wish I could just tell them all, ‘This is what was supposed to happen.’”
As Mike was prepped to be flown to an Army hospital in Germany, he opened his eyes and said, “Wife, kids, love” before going into cardiac arrest. During emergency surgery in the air, the Army arranged to put Father Taillon on the phone so he could say a prayer over Mike.
“They worked on him tirelessly,” Anderson said.
Life would never be the same again
As Mike was being treated for his combat wounds, Anderson was back in Washington State. In her mind, she had gone through the drill countless times about what to do if a military casualty affairs officer were to knock on her door.
“I still wasn’t prepared for that earth-shattering shift in my life,” she said. “You never are.”
An Army officer called her from Afghanistan and told her that Mike had been severely injured. She went across the street, talked to a neighbor and called her mother, who flew in from Rhode Island later that night. Still in her running clothes, Anderson went to her local parish, sat down on the floor in front of the altar, and cried and prayed.
Three days later, Anderson was on a flight bound for Germany. Before she arrived, she asked a military officer to put a Bible next to Mike’s hospital bed. After she arrived, Anderson lay next to her husband, listened to his heartbeat and helped to bathe him.
“That day we called everybody we could think of so they could say their goodbyes to him on the phone,” Anderson said.
Mike Simpson died on May 2, 2013. He was 30 years old. Father Taillon celebrated the funeral Mass and presided over Mike’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
Not long after Mike was buried, Anderson commented to a friend that she wanted to do something for the people who had supported her through that difficult time. Together, they founded a nonprofit, The Unquiet Professional, after Mike’s nickname. The organization supports veterans and Gold Star families with enrichment and support activities. Her efforts led to Anderson being named the 2018 Army Spouse of the Year.
Anderson said people frequently send her pictures of themselves next to Mike’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery.
“It’s said that to die for this country is one of the most honorable things you can do,” she said. “My kids get to say, ‘Look, my daddy died a hero.’”
In March 2017, Father Taillon married Krista and Gus Anderson at St. Thomas More Church. Father Taillon had also baptized Anderson’s younger son.
“Krista is a great ambassador for the Catholic faith,” Father Taillon said. “She’s always talking about Christ, even in secular settings.”
Anderson said she and Gus, who is Catholic, use the example of the Holy Family to teach the boys that, like the young Christ child, they also have a loving stepfather to protect them while their father in heaven watches over them.
“I really try to make that strong intention to make sure that Gus understands he is my husband, he is the boys’ father, that we love him very much and that we are very much a family,” Anderson said.