On my recent trip to New Orleans, I was seated beside one of our military heroes as he flew the last leg of a very long trip home from Afghanistan. Sam had been away from his family for a year, serving with an Army unit. His trip home had taken him from Afghanistan to New Orleans by way of Africa, Germany, Indianapolis, and Atlanta over a period of 36 hours. He was exhausted but willing to talk to me about his family and his life in New Orleans.
Sam’s military service qualifies him as one of America’s heroes. He put his life on the line to protect our freedoms and defend our nation. Additionally, Sam is helping to rebuild New Orleans while realizing the American dream and supporting his family. Sam has been able to purchase damaged homes, renovate them, and rent them. He is building a future for his children while helping to rebuild his home town.
I enjoyed my visit with Sam and looked forward to witnessing Sam’s reunion with his family after his long absence. So I was disappointed to learn that Sam was sneaking into town unannounced. He planned to surprise his family by suddenly showing up at home. I’m sure it was a great surprise and that his family was delighted to have Sam home. However, I couldn’t help but feel that Sam had denied them the great pleasure of waiting excitedly for their first glimpse of him as he made his way through the airport.
Many years ago I waited at the Savannah airport with my mother, three sisters, and little brother as Dad returned home safely from Vietnam. It is one of the best memories of my life. Even now, forty-four years later, there are tears in my eyes as I recall that joyous day. Dad had left home 13 months earlier and served in Saigon during the TET offensive. Although we were in elementary school, my sisters and I couldn’t escape the daily barrage of news on the war in Vietnam. We were aware that he was in harm’s way everyday and there was nothing we could do except pray for God’s hand to protect him.
Mom received word of Dad’s homecoming a day before he arrived home. I think he had called her from Hawaii to let her know he was on his way. She tried to keep the news a secret from us, but we noticed her whispering to the neighbors and figured out that something was up. Mom soon realized that we feared something was wrong and told us the wonderful news. Shortly afterwards, Dad called from California. It is impossible to describe the joy I felt as a nine-year old girl upon hearing Dad’s voice for the first time in more than a year. There was little sleep in our house that night and in the morning we piled into our station wagon to make the trip to the airport.
In 1968 airports were not equipped with the security systems now in place. We stood behind a chain-link fence and watched as Dad came down the steps of the plane. Then we raced into his arms. It was so wonderful to have our Dad home.
Dad could have chosen to surprise us, as Sam did and as many fathers are choosing to do these days. I’m sure we would have been just as thrilled to have him home. But we would have been denied those glorious hours of anticipation, knowing that he was on his way home, and the pure joy of watching him step from the plane.
Thanks, Dad, for your service. You deserved the hero’s welcome you received from your grateful family. And Sam, thank you for your service. Thank you for making the sacrifice to serve your country thousands of miles from home and those you love. I hope your homecoming was as special and joyous in its own way as my father’s was so many years ago.