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A mother’s maternal instinct to protect her young is something we share with every creature on the planet, however in humans that instinct never fades no matter how old her ‘young’ become. For Marie Gallant Major that instinct could never be stronger, having watched her son serve for his country, she now faces the unimaginable anguish of not knowing what has happened to her son Joshua Devine, the diver who went missing from Similans Liveaboard diving trip earlier this year.
Marie thank you very much for agreeing to speak to the Samui Times at this dreadful time.
Can you tell us a little about Josh’s background and his time with the USA forces? Josh joined the US Army straight out of high school and served one year in Kosovo and Bosnia and three years stationed in Germany. He returned home from his four years in the Army two days prior to Sept 11, 2001. I thought for sure the Army would pull him back to Active Duty, but they didn’t, so he signed up for the National Guard. He was immediately sent back over to Baghdad and spent a couple of years there. He was named as Soldier of the Year in 2004 for the Northeast Quarter of the US. He also has a long list of accommodations he received during his enlistment with the Army and the National Guard.
To win Soldier of the Year you compete against other top soldiers in your quadrant and are dropped in a remote wooded area far from any town and are given only absolute bare essentials to survive and find your way to the place they tell you to get to. Josh was the first one to make it out to the appointed location. He is extremely resourceful, smart, and logical and he never gives up. We used to call him little MacGyver after the TV show that used to be on back in the 80s or 90s. He can figure his way out of any situation and he never panics. He very quietly stops and logically thinks it out.
He also spent a few years in Afghanistan and then in Kuwait as a military contractor.
Can you tell us when and why Josh started to spend time in Thailand and how much time he spent here? Josh began spending time in Thailand on weekend leave when he worked as a contractor the first time in Kuwait, which was sometime around 2008 – 2011. He said there wasn’t much to do in Kuwait so he would go to Thailand with a couple of the guys he worked with and enjoy a fun weekend of beautiful beaches, good food and fun people. He met many people in Thailand that he considers friends who owned or worked in the restaurants or clubs he liked to frequent and the dive centers. He truly loved the tropical life and enjoyed the laid back friends that he met. Josh loves life in general and he loves to have fun. He loved Thailand for the weather, the atmosphere and the fun.
I never had the chance to meet his wife until April this year when all this happened. Until then I had only spoken to her a couple of times briefly at the holidays. Josh always called home on Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. He called home often but mostly when he was at work. On the holidays we would have a chance to speak to Thadsana as well. She never really had much to say but I chalked that up to not knowing us so not having much to talk about and maybe not speaking English well.
We always hoped to meet Thadsana on one of Josh’s trips home. He had always told us he was trying to get her green card and/or visa so she could come with him, but she never was able come to the States to meet us. We found it strange that the only trip she made with him was to Singapore and although she was also a dive master she never wanted to accompany him on the diving trips he took. They did go on a trip to the Similan Islands back in 2012 and from what Josh told us they had a great time. He had a hard time convincing her to move to Kuwait with him this time too. She did not want to leave Thailand. He said she was worried that she wouldn’t get along with the people there, but he took great care in finding an apartment in a complex where he knew she would fit right in and be comfortable. She was homesick often so Josh made sure to send her back to Thailand regularly to visit her friends, shop and have a couple of weeks at home every couple of months. He saved up his vacation time so that he could spend holidays and extra time with her in Thailand when possible.
Tell us of Josh’s love of diving
He loved to dive and since Josh never does anything halfway he wanted to become a certified dive instructor. Once he attained that he went on for his dive master certification and rescue diver cert. He loved diving in Thailand and also visited the Maldives, the Philippines and other well know dive areas where he was learning how to dive with two tanks to do the sunken ship explorations.
Josh was an instructor for a while at the Mermaids Dive Center in Pattaya and we have spoken to several of his students. One of his students lives in the Philippines and is a friend of a friend, as it turns out. All of his students who have contacted us have mentioned that when diving Josh was all business. He taught them to thoroughly check and test their equipment before and after each dive. They all said his number one rule was never drink before a dive. One man mentioned that Josh was so strict on that rule that he has not touched a drink in three years because of Josh pounding that into their heads during class.
As I mentioned previously, Josh and Thadsana went on an excursion to the Similan Islands back in 2012. I believe it was in December that year. He had a great time but remarked that he had really wanted to swim with the whale sharks and it was the wrong time of year. So this trip in April was what he labeled his “mecca” dive. The whale sharks would be there and he was super excited he would finally get to dive with them. He called his niece, Faith, who is very interested in learning about sea creatures, and all animals in general, about a week before he left Kuwait for Thailand to tell her about the trip he was going on and the whale sharks he was going to swim with. He promised to send her pictures and video of his dives with these animals. She was so excited for him.
When and how did you learn that Josh had gone missing from the dive vessel? On Saturday morning, April 11th, I received a call at around 8:30AM my time from Thadsana. She said, “ I’m sorry to have to tell you Mom, but Josh is gone.” I was confused. I asked what she meant by “gone”. She said he must have fallen off the boat, he is gone. I asked if anyone looked for him and she said “No Mom, he’s gone. The water is big and very deep. We can’t find him, no one can dive that deep.”
I got off the phone and fell apart. All I could think of was what if I never see him again? What if I never see his smile, hear his laugh, feel another hug from him? I couldn’t bear the thought of that, of him just being gone. I fell to pieces. I could barely breathe. Then I was just overwhelmed with the importance of getting in touch with someone who could help, but I had no idea who to turn to. My daughter, Jennifer, called the US Embassy, but didn’t get far as it was the beginning of the Thai New Year holiday and no one was available to help us. I waited all day to hear something and all I could think about was that it was night time there and he was alone in the water in the pitch dark. It broke my heart and soul to think of him like that.
What were your initial thoughts in terms of the probability that reports that Josh was abusive prior to going missing and that he may have been drunk at the time? I couldn’t believe that Josh was drunk. Everyone who knew him told us that he doesn’t drink before a dive. On the way back after a dive, yes, he would celebrate the dive, but never before a dive. The most anyone could ever get him to drink before a dive was one beer and it would have to be early on in the night….hours before sleep or diving the next day. So to hear he was in that condition just 4 hours before he was supposed to dive on the trip he had been so excited about, no, I don’t believe it. The description we were given of his behavior and the ones (there were several versions) given to the media all described someone who was drugged not someone who was drunk. Josh is the most non-violent person I have ever known. He much prefers to joke around and have a good time than to get into a fight or be violent in any way. Anyone who has known him for any real length of time will tell you that when Josh drinks he becomes the happiest, most lovable guy around. He just wants to talk your ear off and hug you.
Having never met your daughter in law, how did you support each other in such a distressing time?
It was hard to do anything over the phone. We would call and she would call and text to let us know what was going on but we felt we needed to get there to help her keep the searches going. The Thai marine police did not go out until late the second day because of the holiday and then did not search long due to bad weather. We felt she needed some back up to help put the pressure on the police to keep up the search. We needed to raise money to get there as my daughter and I do not have that amount of extra money lying around. A family member suggested we start a Go Fund Me site. We did and within one day we had received enough in donations to get plane tickets. It took a couple of days to get things squared away here, my daughter has two little girls and a husband to worry about so arrangements had to be made. I had to get approval to take time from work and for the Go Fund Me money to be transferred to my account so we could purchase the tickets.
Once that was all taken care of we headed for NY and headed over to Thailand. Thadsana and a woman from the Tourist Police met us at the airport and brought us to our hotel. Our time in Thailand was rather frustrating. No one spoke English and we really didn’t have anyone to help with translation. Most of what anyone was saying we were told wasn’t important. My daughter went to the police station to get the police report. She sat there for an hour with Thadsana and the TP woman and no one explaining anything or translating anything for her. Then when she finally was able to speak to the officer in charge and ask for the report she was told no, she couldn’t have it. So she was brought back to the hotel, empty handed.
The next day we met with a man who one of Josh’s co-workers in Kuwait had sent $3,000 USD to for the purpose of renting a plane to take us over the islands we wanted to check out to see if Josh could possibly be on one of them. This man was American, I believe, and had access to planes and pilots and we were told he was willing to help us. He came to the hotel and Thadsana joined us there. We met with this man and after he showed us the maps that the Thai police used, and showed us the area the police had searched, he said it would be a waste of money to get a plane and hire a pilot because more than likely we wouldn’t find Josh. That he probably drowned and the current would keep him under. Thadsana agreed that the water is big and deep and he wouldn’t be found. I would have thought she would want to at least try whatever we could since the money was sent for that purpose, but it felt like she had already accepted that he was gone and there was nothing more to do. There was nothing I could really say. These people are divers, they know the water better than I do, they were telling me it was a lost cause and I felt I had no support to push the subject. So I told the man to give the money to Thadsana and she could use it to bring their dog and cats back to Thailand from Kuwait.
Do you think the difference in the two cultures could account for her seemingly less than supportive attitude? I guess it is possible. I know different people, different cultures grieve differently. I guess it was just that I was hurting so bad for him and needed so desperately to know where he was, and I still do. I can’t imagine how you just move on not knowing what happened to a person you love. Not having some resolution. It is torture, but not for some people I guess. If that is a cultural thing, I am glad it is not my culture.
How did you find the help given in Phuket by the authorities? I guess they were doing their best to help. They were called in so late that day that they were given a very daunting task with not much time to make any progress. While we were in Thailand the police offered to take us up in the helicopter and show us the area where Josh could possibly be considering time and current. By this time I think they knew it was a fruitless effort but knew we needed something. The Governor came with us and although I felt he did feel our pain, it also felt like a good photo opportunity for him. The head of the police, I’m sorry I don’t know his name or his rank, no one translated for us so I didn’t understand what he was telling me, but he tried to tell me in English that the captain of the boat would be punished for leaving the scene and not waiting for the police to get there. He did express his sympathies to us and I do feel he was sincere. I thanked them for their help and doing what they could do for my son. I didn’t know what else to say and again, there was no one translating for us so it seemed the more we spoke to each other, the more confused we both became. There were reporters there when we got back, all wanting statements, and I was just too upset to speak to them, my daughter had to finish for me.
How did it feel to meet your daughter in law for the first time under such emotional circumstances?
It was strange to finally meet her and not have Josh there with us. She seemed very nice, and she tried to be helpful. She showed us where we could exchange our money for Thai money and helped my daughter with her cell phone. I felt lost and in the way because she and the Tourist Police woman were speaking Thai and laughing and I didn’t know what they were saying and I felt if I asked it would be rude to be intruding on their conversation. But at the same time I felt it was kind of inappropriate to be laughing and speaking a language in front of us that we didn’t understand, especially under the circumstances. Jennifer reminded me that we weren’t in the U.S. and they do things differently. Josh and Jen have always been much more understanding of other cultures than I. I guess I just don’t get out enough.
How did it feel to have to return home without Josh? I felt as though I had let him down. Like he had been waiting for us to find him and we failed. We left earlier than we had planned because we weren’t getting anywhere. We couldn’t understand anyone, they couldn’t understand us, no one was really willing to help us get to where we wanted to go or do what we wanted to do. We were just told that it would be useless. We tried to hire a Private Investigator but couldn’t get in touch with anyone who spoke English or could understand what we wanted them to do. So, instead of “wasting” money staying there longer, we headed back home. I cried all the way home. My heart was broken. My spirit was broken. I felt empty and lost and a failure. Josh has always been there for me and I let him down.
There is not a single day that I can get through without breaking down at some point and crying until everything hurts. I can’t describe the deep in the center of your being, pain, that I feel. I haven’t slept more than 2 or 3 hours a night since this happened. I can’t think anymore. All I think about is where Josh is, alone, is he hurt? Is he gone? Was he picked up by some not nice people and being hurt? Is he wandering around some neighboring country with amnesia? My mind goes off to the most crazy thoughts, far-fetched scenarios of where he might be, what could possibly be happening and my heart breaks that I can’t help him. I can’t find him and bring him home. I can’t make it better and fix what is hurting or scaring him. I know he is a grown man but to me he will always be my son and I just want him to be OK. I just need him to be home, where he belongs.
How do you cope not knowing where Josh is? You know, when Josh decided to join the Army right out of high school I thought I would go crazy. I thought I’d be worrying day and night. He was stationed in some awful places. Kosovo, when he was only 18. Afghanistan and Baghdad in his 20’s and I didn’t worry about him. He always called and let me know he was OK, whenever anything happened that he knew I would hear about and worry. There was one time when there were men captured in Iraq and I thought for sure he was one of them. I got a call from one of the guys he bunked with and he told me he knew Josh would want him to call me and let me know that Josh is nowhere near where that happened and he is fine. Josh called me about 4 hours later. He had been out on detail and was very grateful to his friend for calling me for him.
This is so much worse. I don’t cope well at all. I don’t know what is going on over there. I can only read the papers from Phuket and know he is still gone. I just cry. Every day. Every night. That is my life now. The hurt, the missing him, the scared, vulnerable, useless feelings all rolled together.
How are the rest of the family coping with this impossible situation? My daughter tries to hold it together for my sake. She handles all the media interviews and makes all the calls to the embassy because I can’t talk about this without crying. She loses it at night when the day is done and she doesn’t have to talk to anyone else and she doesn’t have to hold it together for me or her little girls, she falls apart then. I see it in her eyes the next day. It is hard for my 7 year old granddaughter because she loves her Uncle Josh so much and she talks to him often. He would call her from work all the time and they would talk about animals and what dives he was planning and what kinds of sea creatures would be where he was going and would he be taking pictures and videos for her? They always had such great conversations. She is so smart and so far ahead in school because he would sit for hours with her, when he came home, and teach her math. She’d really good in math now. She told me the other day that she cries all the time because she’ll read about an animal and want to tell Uncle Josh about it and then she remembers that he is missing and she can’t and she is scared that she’ll never get to tell him about all the animals she is learning about ever again, and she just starts crying. And again I feel useless. I don’t know what to say to her to make her feel better because I am just as scared as she is that we may never see him again.
How is Josh’s wife coping with this mystery, is she able to offer much support? She doesn’t speak to us.
How about the other passengers on the boat, have they offered any insight into what has happened? No one from the boat has spoken to us except for one man who was with him during the last 30 min he was on the boat. He, according to him, went down to his room right after Josh went missing to write down on his computer what happened. A very detailed accounting of what happened. Unfortunately, it is the same story the others told, and it has changed at least 5 times since first told. I was told that I would be able to speak with the dive center manager when he returned from the trip…the boat carried on with the 4 day excursion. When the boat returned we were told he headed to Bangkok and was not available to speak to us.
We have had several people from other dive centers tell us that it is very unusual for the trip to continue. They don’t understand why it wasn’t cancelled. Normal procedure would be to cancel the trip.
How determined are you to find out what has happened to Josh? My daughter and I will never stop until we find him and have him home. Jen has vowed to make it her life’s mission to bring her brother home. I don’t care how long it takes, what I have to do, how much it costs, we will find him and we will bring him home. We just had a fundraiser last Friday night to help with the cost of the lawyers and to raise money for a reward. We raised over $7000 and will hold more fundraisers as needed until we get him back home and find out what happened. We have a Go Fund Me site, the same one, reopened if anyone would like to help us find him and the truth. http://www.gofundme.com/rt25ze6
We are offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who can give us information that results in Josh coming home. We will be sure to keep the person’s identity confidential and will get the money to that person via trusted sources we have working with us in Thailand. Anyone who knows anything about what happened that night, please send the information to my daughter at firstname.lastname@example.org or to me at email@example.com. Information will be kept strictly confidential and if it leads us to Josh the money will get to the person who gave the tip in a very quiet manner. No one will ever know who provided the tip. We just want him home. We are not out to prosecute anyone, we just want him home and will gladly reward whoever can give him to us.
What you are going through is unimaginable for most people, all of us here at the Samui Times hope that somebody will come forward with some information that will help you find out what has happened to Josh.