I’m back again after a week away from home.
You see, my son has just returned from Iraq. He’s in the Army and has spent the last year in and around Baghdad. I’d been there to personally see him off. And I couldn’t let him return home without personally greeting him. Ecstatic joy filled my being.
In typical Army fashion, he was scheduled to return about mid-week but didn’t get there until early morning on the weekend. So, I had a little time to burn before he eventually arrived.
My son was at West Point when the terrorist brought down the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the hijacked plane. I would have gone to Afghanistan to capture Bin Laden. Get him, if he survived and get out fast. But my military days are far behind me.
Iraq was a different situation. I never supported the decision to go into Iraq. Not before, during or now.
The justification and rush put on by the Bush administration, the debate in Congress, the coverage by the press, and the almost paranoid reaction by us Americans, made me often wonder just what it means to support the troops.
Early on, I would seen those magnetic car stickers and ponder if the driver supported the troops? And that’s with the proper planning, material support, justification, followup and prayer. Or did those stickers represent a weak sentimental emotion that would leave those young boys ill prepared, poorly supported and abandoned by bureaucratic bungling when they returned home and needed this country’s help. History now shows us it was mostly the latter, at least by those that started the war. It made me angry!
What do you say to your son when he and all those young men are departing? What about their return?
Arriving troops are welcomed on a parade field next to their battalion headquarters. The Fort is large. So, I decided to scout out the site during the day, and not wonder around lost at 2 am. It was easy to find. The day was warm. There’s time to walk around.
Next to battalion headquarters is a monument area. I wondered over. A circle of black obelisks surrounded a bronze sculpture of a soldier helping a child. I sat down and looked around. Columns of names and dates covered both sides of most of the obelisks. A scattered rose here or there. A battalion patch carefully set down by a returning comrade.
Deep penetrating sorrow soaked my being. Tears filled my eyes as they wandered up and down, putting together the totality of this human loss through time.
Joy and sorrowing, like oil and water sloshed around inside my being. Neither fully mixing with the other. Yet somehow both became emulsified by the intense emotional energy of this place. I wanted to get up and run away. But I did not. I could not! I stayed and let this place, these people, have their way with my soul.
Political prevarication? Bungling bureaucracy? Self serving generals? Blind idiotic patriotism? My anger? Now, in this time and place, all of them are irrelevant!
After a time, I look up and see my wife standing off a ways. She is sensitive and has felt the power of this place. It’s too much for her. She patiently waits for me. It is time for me to go.
It’s 12:30 am. In the 30’s with a stiff wind. It’s dark and cold!
Two big screen TVs illuminate the steps of battalion headquarters. A small group of people huddle in the entrance way, out of the wind, as an airplane icon crawls across the map. That’s the plane they’re on. And they’re getting closer to home.
Army personnel setup cameras, power up amplifiers, light up the field and provide security. Everything must be ready. And they’ve done this before. They know their duty and the routine.
It’s 1:30 now. Cheering. Lots of cheering and crying and praising God. They’re safe on the ground. They’re almost home.
People sheltering in their cars fill the bleachers surrounding the field. Banners. Posters. Balloons. Old gray headed parents like myself. Young wives looking their best, tend to tired, cold, confused but excited kids. Friends. Bothers. Sisters. All wait excitedly.
A rock beat floods the parade grounds. Then feet tap and heads sway to the warm beat of a Latin rhythm. It’s too much. The emotion. The song. The wait. People are on the field. They are dancing with joy, with expectation, with celebration.
Our boys are home. Our boys are home. They’re back on American soil.
An Army DJ takes to the microphone and begins to call out dance moves in the Texas way. The dancing crowd moves in unison to the calls. It’s hypnotic. It’s magnetic. Old and young, male and female, rich and poor, black and white dance rthymically communicating in a common spiritual way that is rooted in our ancient past. It’s the proper way. It’s the only way to fully express one’s self until the buses arrive.
As the buses pull away, every eye stains into the darkness. Then like lightning, they burst into the light marching with their colors and our flag. There are so many of them. They are so young. Where is my son. I see him. I see him!
A few words of welcome. A prayer. Then the crowd rushed the disciplined troops standing at attention. They appeared stunned.
My feet rush with the crowd until they got next to the troops. Then they stopped. My hands got lost while covering my eyes momentarily. I found them again. They were on my checks as I looked at these young men and women. I’m as stunned as they are.
Then my feet walked through the crowd as I locate my son. Initially, he barely looks at us. The welcome home sign is barely acknowledged. I see much the same happening with other soldiers.
Is he still in a state of shock? What is he thinking? Is it extreme fatigue. I don’t know what my son and these young men have been through.
But I know what you tell your son when he leaves. And it’s what you live when he returns. It’s how you handle your responsibilities to those around you. Watching after each other. Doing your best for them. Caring for them. And doing what’s right even when the situation you find yourself in is not of your choosing and is the pits.
And that’s what these young men and women have done. They have put their lives on the line. They have made a difference. Welcome home guys. Welcome home Jon. You are my heroes.