….As my dad was winging his way to BWI in Maryland, from Colorado, Handsome Husband and I arrived at the Hilton, where we, and the veterans, would stay overnight. My excitement level was building, the butterflies in my stomach fluttering-I hadn’t seen my dad in three years, so I knew that was going to be emotional and add into the mix all the sights and sounds that would be experienced during this too quick 24 hours, and, well, you catch my drift!
We changed so as to be ready for the banquet that evening, and waited by the huge windows that gave us a view of the road, so that we could see the approaching buses. I watched as a huge truck backed up and hundreds of overnight bags belonging to the veterans were offloaded.
Several young men and women arrived, smartly turned out in uniforms from each of the military branches. This would be the Honor Guard for the evenings’ festivities.
I didn’t want to miss anything-the colors, the energy, any part of the arrival, so Handsome Husband and I went outside to the main doors. Oh, the anticipation was building, as I watched the various hotel employees, dressed out in suits, position themselves outside. The buses must be close, I thought. And a thrill just ran through me, folks, at the very idea of being a part of this! And then, yep! There was the first bus, rounding the corner!
I had no clue which bus my dad might be on, so I tried to watch closely as the passengers stepped off. And, as I watched, I had a thought about just what this entire weekend was for-it was the recognition and welcome home that these military people had never gotten. I wanted to do some gesture to add to that. But in order to do that, I had to step outside my comfort zone. Let me pause here to acknowledge that, for those of you who know me, you might be surprised, if not shocked, to find out that I am, in many ways, at heart, a shy person. My outgoing personality has been hard won, and is authentic now, but even I must push past my fears at times, and this was one of those times, in order to make it the experience I hoped it to be. I called to mind what Eleanor Roosevelt once said, that “every day, you must confront that one thing that you fear the most”. So, as the veterans debarked, I went to stand where they would have to pass me,
and as each one passed me by, I made eye contact with them, held out my hand to shake theirs, and said “Welcome home. I’m so glad you’re here”. And they smiled so broadly, and I knew that what I was doing was a good thing.
It was beautiful. It was thrilling. The energy was tangible. And it was only minutes before I saw my dad.
You know what I find interesting? I’m pretty much okay with farewells-there might be a few tears, but then I’m up and running with anticipation about what’s around the corner. Its when I greet people for the first time, after a long absence, that my waterworks get going, and that’s exactly what happened when my dad reached me. I hugged him, he hugged me, and I burst into tears. He had tears too, (though he might deny it). It was so good to see him, and to see him here, participating in this.
My dad’s a West Pointer. It wasn’t long after he graduated that he was sent over to Korea. After serving his time over there, he was put aboard a ship that docked in Hawaii, and that was the first time he was able to contact my mom in the US to tell her he was on his way home. It took him thirty days to travel from Korea to San Francisco. Like so many others in that war, and in WW2, he came home alone, not with his unit. There was nobody to greet these men and women, nobody to say thank you for serving our country, nobody to acknowledge their life-changing experience. They got off the plane or the ship, found their way home, found a job, started their families, and went on with their lives. In their souls, they held the nightmares and pain of what they had seen and done. Now that the veterans of these wars are aged, and dying, those memories are surfacing. The words are being spoken. This is what they had to do. This is what they saw. I believe so strongly that we need to bear witness to them, to their stories. This Honor Flight weekend with my dad, with Handsome Husband, (himself an Air Force veteran), maybe I could do my part, maybe I could be part, of the healing. So….I put out my hand to them. And started the most beautiful 24 hours of my life~