Whew! After being in the air for over 24 hours, I’m finally home.
It’s weird. That’s all I can say. I won’t go into a big romp about getting used to life in the states, partly because it’s been said a hundred times before, partly because I don’t need to play the “weary battle-hardened veteran, home from war” card, and partly because I’ll only be back for two weeks — no need to lament a stage in life I’m fixin’ to return to.
Pulling into Dallas (one of the main return hubs in the states) was a tremendous experience. Although it was just a quick few minutes as we scattered and ran to our respective connecting flights, I’ll never forget it.
That jarring wheels-hitting-ground sensation rose up a cheer in the cabin as it finally hit home that we were in the states.
It was 10-ish in the morning, Easter Sunday. The plane slowed and turned toward the terminals. Out of our left and right sides, airport fire trucks were waiting and hosed down our plane as we passed by — sort of like a drive-through car wash. It’s a tradition, I learned, as a sort of “washing off the dust of Iraq” thing.
A few minutes later we deplaned and did the Customs romp again. This stage was pretty streamlined since we had done all the hardcore bag inspections back in Kuwait. Thankfully, we didn’t have to dump out everything again.
Leaving the Customs area in ones and twos, the was an older man in a sports jacket and wicker hat adorned in VFW pins. He shook our hands and pointed us to the next room. “Welcome back sarge,” he threw my way.
In the next room, on Easter Sunday, mind you, were dozens of people lining the walkway, cheering and waving flags.
I was able to shake hands with a lot of them — men, women, veterans with their pins showing their service in Vietnam and Desert Storm, kids with their parents saluting us and handing out candy. It was a total surprise and completely amazing.
Most touching were the few guys from Vietnam who grabbed hold and hugged me, tears in their eyes. “God bless you, sergeant!” they said, “Welcome home.” You could feel that they were genuinely moved to see us, and that blew me away. All that I could say was “thanks” and a few “good to be back”. I didn’t know what else to do. These were guys with several purple hearts, infantry badges and the like — real heroes. The fact that they came by to say hi to me was incredible.
There were also all manner of USO and other VFW volunteers there to hand out cigarettes and candy to us as we walked by.
I definitely hadn’t expected anyone to be there, especially on Easter Sunday. I felt bad that I couldn’t stay and talk since my connecting flight was so soon. I wanted to talk to the Vietnam guys about their war, and how they had been affected by no one being there for them when they came home.
I’ll definitely be one of those who returns the favor when my children go off to war. Regardless of what political bent someone might take on the whole war gig, the fact that a lot of people have pledged never again to forget the soldier is a moving thing.
It made me damn proud to be home, that’s for sure.