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After a long wait in Kyrgyzstan, and MANY hours flying, I finally made it home Saturday. Although I’d been in the process of going home for the past few days, I hadn’t really felt the excitement of coming home until the last leg of my air travel, from Baltimore to Philly. (I flew from Bagram to Turkey to Germany to Baltimore to Philly.)
I almost didn’t make my original flight from Baltimore to Philly. The weather was really crazy that day; while I was in the BWI airport, the loudspeaker announced that they were canceling lots of flights. In fact, they had just cancelled an earlier flight to Philly and they were about to cancel mine, too. I just sat patiently. What else could I do? (I had waited a year to be home … a few more hours wouldn’t hurt.) But, the storms cleared for a few minutes, allowing us to take off as scheduled.
As I was in the air, I imagined Muna and Taj waiting for me on the other end of the security wall at the Philly airport. I knew Muna would bring a friend with her. She doesn’t like driving in bad weather alone.
But I didn’t know that she and her friend had arranged for a celebration at the airport.
As soon as I got off the plane in Philly, I was greeted by an airport policeman inside the walkway.
“Captain Lee?” he asked me. (I initially assumed he was a US Customs agent. They sometimes stop people who travel internationally for random inspections.)
The policeman smiled and asked me to accompany him. We jumped in a golf-cart and began speeding through the terminal. He rushed me to the security gate. As we approached the gate, I heard the sound of cheering and clapping.
Not only did I find Muna and her friend there, but there was a whole crowd of people, holding American flags and waving homemade signs … all welcoming me home. They represented several groups. Primarily, the Warrior’s Watch Riders, A Hero’s Welcome, and the local American Legion.
I rushed to grab Taj and Muna … and gave them a big hug and kiss.
Then, I walked through the gauntlet of people and shook their hands. Although I had never met any of these folks before, each of them looked me in the eye, gave me a sincere hug and greeting, and overall, just made me feel like I was coming home to a big family.
They gave Taj a lapel pin and a challenge coin. Then they talked me up in front of him. (I assume it made him feel proud of his dad.) He strutted around (almost marching) after receiving it.
Think about this … These folks organized together to drive their personal vehicles, spend their own gas, spend time from their day after work or away from family, drive to the airport, PAY money for parking, and wait around for a flight that could have or could not have been delayed … all for a person whom they had never met before.
I wondered to myself: Why would they do that? Some postings on their websites gave me the answer.
Many of them were Vietnam veterans. But, unlike my homecoming experience, Vietnam veterans who returned to the US were not received warmly by protestors (according to some who were there.) Although people did go to airports and bus stations to greet returning military members, it was abuse they greeted them with, not love. (Some veterans claim to have been spat upon and called names … all because they obeyed the law and answered the draft to serve.) After months of stressful combat conditions, separation from family and friends, could you imagine returning home to be abused by your own people?
Maybe that’s why these folks met me at the airport … to make darn sure that the experience I had was a pleasant one. Not just simple and plain; not negative, but a pleasant, positive experience, void of any political bias about the war … just celebrating the fact that a military person was able to return to his family after serving.
I checked out their websites (see their links, below.) They ask for no money or donations. The only help they ask for is more people to do the same … welcome troops home (whether you support the war or not.)
To Charlie, Maria and the crew from A Hero’s Welcome; to Jeff, Tim and Kat at Warrior’s Watch; to the American Legion, the Philly Airport Police Dept and of course, Marianne, I offer my sincerest thanks for making my small family seem so big on the occasion of my coming home from the ‘stan. It is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.
Now, who’s gonna give me motorcycle-riding lessons?