Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Scenes from the Military Town Airport

I'm sitting at the airport cafe, across the way from the security checkpoint. It's a quiet weekday morning and I'm enjoying a sandwich and a soda, blogging and surfing for a bit before I have to go into work. Dozens of people wait their turn in line at the security line while more flow out away from the airplanes and into the terminal area. It's a disjointed parade of people, all sizes and shapes, all of them on their way somewhere, whether it's home or some distant destination.

I look up to see a group forming at the greeting area where the arriving passengers enter the terminal. An elderly couple. Another couple in their early fifties. A couple in their twenties with a baby in their arms. A few other relatives stand around with them, holding signs. They're anxious, yet quiet. One of them watches the terminal clock tick away the minutes.

The one watching the time suddenly speaks excitedly to the others and they all turn toward the arrival door. The elderly couple unfurls a large red flag, holding it at chest height. The United States Marine Corps banner, proud and four feet across. These must be the grandparents. The middle-aged couple, I'm assuming to be the parents, unfold a similar-sized United States flag and hold it high. The red, white, and blue are radiant against the drabness of the terminal. Several of the other family members grip their homemade welcome signs, standing on tip-toe, trying to see past the multitude of passengers exiting the concourse.

And then they see their son. The grandmother yells "Urrah!", holding the USMC flag high over her head with the grandfather. The parents wave the American flag excitedly yet silently. The relatives hoot and cheer. The young couple lift their baby and point down the way, the baby's father telling his infant boy, "Heyyy, there's your uncle!"

The son comes into my view. He's tall, lanky, dressed in his BDU's and carrying an enormous backpack. He's got a desert tan compared to the pale skin of his family. He looks so young, maybe twenty, and he's got this shy "Hi mom" grin on his face. All eyes turn to watch him as he enters the arrivals area. He looks humbled by the welcome.

His mother breaks ranks and rushes to him, throwing her arms around him. She's a good two heads shorter than he is, and even so she seems to swallow him up in her embrace. They hug for what seems to be forever, and what must not be long enough for them.

All around them, the entire terminal breaks out in applause. Cheers and shouts ring up from the security lines and those waiting for their own relatives and friends. The store clerks, the security officers, and the ladies from the information desk join in. And through it all, mother and son seem lost in their own world. One can only guess how much worry and fear must have passed through their lives since the last time they saw each other.

The rest of the family joins them. The soldier's father grabs his son and holds him hard. The grandparents give him a two-way hug, the grandmother touching his face with a glowing smile. A moment later, the brother is introducing the new uncle to the new nephew for the first time. Other relatives take turns hugging him and shaking his hand. There is only brief conversation, overshadowed by raw emotion, as they look into each others' eyes.

The flags are soon folded up - carefully, in the traditional honor guard method - and the completed family now moves on. As they head for the terminal exit, the soldier's face is peaceful. His mother leans against him, her head fitting into the crook of his shoulder. His father claps him on the back and asks if he can help him with that enormous rucksack. "Naw dad, I've got it," the soldier says, smiling. The proud father grins back and puts his arm around both his son and wife.

And then they're out of sight and down the steps.

It's so easy to talk about war in the detached, abstract terms of politics and economics, of dollars and time. But when I see things like this, it drives home the magnitude of what's at stake in terms of the human cost, the hundreds of thousands of young men and women that have volunteered to serve their country. And behind each soldier in uniform, there's a family that misses them and worries about them, hopes that the mission their son or daughter is asked to fulfill is a just one, and prays for them to return safely into their arms.

It doesn't need to be Memorial Day or the Fourth of July to recognize the contributions of these fine people who have taken up arms in the name of this incredible country. Hopefully our leaders will someday realize that the sacrifices of these troops - and their families - are not to be made in vain.

5 comments:

Toby.Bucsescu@gmail.com said...

Very well said. Thank you for that story.

70's vet said...

AMEN!

Anonymous said...

great post.... reminded me of my hometown airport years ago. keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

"Yut!"

Ran Barton said...

Terrific post.