It is hard to believe it has been six years since I wrote this piece for the “Colfax Record”.
Sometimes milestone moments seem much closer in time. It must be the small section of your heart, changed in such a way that from that moment on, you life is never be quite the same.
This was one of those moments.
Even just seeing this photo of Mark welcoming Nathan as soon as he got off the bus makes my something in my throat constrict and eyes water. A picture truly is worth a thousand words.
“If men and women are in chains anywhere in the world, then freedom is endangered everywhere.” –– John F. Kennedy
At 5:30 a.m. the band began to warm up. Floodlights cast a glow over Victory Field where families from all different backgrounds waited with anticipation, excitement and expectation. Styrofoam cups of steaming coffee helped warm the hands of those standing in the chilly air of 29 Palms.
The 2/7 Marines were within minutes of arriving home from the rugged regions of Afghanistan. I watched young moms cuddle babies, who would meet their dads for the first time. One soldier, who had come home early, waited to be reunited with his unit. He lifted his pant leg to reveal the metal bar that extended from the stump at his knee to the prosthetic foot in his tennis shoe. I tried not to stare. Ignoring the harsh reality of war is not always as easy as changing the channel.
I thought of former Colfax resident Ellen Kummer, whose letters from her husband I read while researching a story for the Colfax Record. “It must have been hard,” I remembered asking her as we talked about being separated from her husband, Ralph, who was stationed in New Guinea during World War II. She thought for a moment before replying. “In a way it was like childbirth, once you get through it, you forget about the pain,” she said.
I hoped, as my stomach began to knot, that Ellen was right. I was not the first mother to see her son go off to war and I won’t be the last. As hard as it was to see Nathan leave earlier this year, it was a comfort knowing this was his choice. He was not drafted. Nor did he enlist to avoid front line duty. He joined out of passion and a conviction to serve our country and fight for democracy.
Families waited, friends watched and, finally, the waiting was over. The police escort came into view. The band began to play and cheers erupted as the flags waved. A line of buses pulled to the curb and into the crowd walked our soldiers. I wanted to see my oldest son, hold him close and maybe count his fingers and toes.
I wanted him home, but I also wanted him whole, physically, mentally and emotionally.
When I saw Nathan’s smile I realized the truth of Ellen’s answer. He hugged me tight as I cried tears of relief. Those who poured out of the buses had left as our sons, grandsons, husbands, fathers, brothers and friends. Last week they came home as our heroes.
From our country’s beginnings, men and women have fought to ensure the freedoms that we often take for granted. Veteran’s Day is a day that we set aside time to remember to say “thank you” to the ones who fight to keep us free.
Remember to say thanks to our heroes on Tuesday and every day after that.