October 15, 2008
I drove to the airport with Brad Paisley in my CD player. My heart thumped with excitement, my boy was coming home. I was alone in the car, everyone was still at work. But I would not be greeting my son alone. The Patriot Guard would be there, I was meeting them before his arrival.
I am a PGR member, and had requested a flagline at the airport. Knowing it was mid-week, and early evening, I did not expect a big turn out for the event. No, I would be hopeful for 5-10 people and grateful for that many. My mind wandered as I drove, picturing the events to come. Flags held high as my son came to me
at the airport. My heart raced, and I could feel the stretching of my cheeks as my mouth was in a never ending smile on the way there. More than anything, I could not wait for that first hug. That once all over check, that eye to eye greeting.
I kept glancing at my clock, plenty of time to meet at the staging area. I pulled into the airport area about 5:40pm. I was looking for the Best Western where we were staging, and spotted the hotel signs. I took a deep breath, "Please let there be a few people here...", and as I rounded the drive, I felt my jaw drop. I had to count at least 15 -20 people already there. Some on bikes, the day had been warm but a nip was settling into the air. I heard a voice saying, "Oh my gosh! Oh wow!"...it was my own. I could feel that smile stretching even bigger, with tears coming to the corner of my eyes.
I met couples, veterans, and even children came with their parents. Several people were on their first mission. Many faces were familiar, some I knew by name. A boy dressed in his NY National Guard Junior Cadet Corps uniform. I was floored, over and over again. But, this was just the beginning. This was just the pre-gathering. We made a circle as our Ride Captain began to give his instructions for the actual event to take place in the terminal. He introduced as the soldier's mom and they applauded. I told them, "No, the applause should be for all of you. I cannot thank you enough for being here for my son."
I wish I had thought to videotape the roll out to the airport from that parking lot to the limo parking lot the airport police allowed us to use. Flags were not unfurled on the bike, but the stream of bikes and cars was breathtaking. Now, you would think, me being part of missions in the past, I would have been prepared. But I wasn't. I was the last car...I think...and just watched the procession. Again, I felt like I was on cloud nine. My boy was due shortly, and these wonderful people were here to welcome him home.
In the limo parking lot, the bikes lined up and that view was another eye opening moment. I have pictures of that. Lined all in a row, it was even more overwhelming then in the previous area. Then they began unrolling flags and raising them on their extendable poles. Goosebumps on goosebumps. We walked together to the terminal, again I was in the back of the pack. Busy taking pictures, taking it all in.
One little tiny snag, just before my son's flight was due....we were at the wrong gate! I was shaking when the lady informed us. We had thought we were ok, he was coming in on Continental. But, his flight service had changed to NorthWest at some point. This time, I led the pack in the dash to the gate across the terminal. I know why they call it terminal now, it is terminally long!
I reached the escalator to take me to the other gate, when I had the thought to check the baggage claim area. Good idea, because my son was already there! His flight had landed ten minutes earlier. I shouted back, "I see him! He is right there!" He had already spotted me, too! He smiled wide and we met in a huge hug! A quick check into his eyes, another hug...and another...and another. Well, an apology for being at the wrong gate. I was so sorry for that, and imagined his disappointment. But he shook his head, "We were early anyhow, and my fault that I didn't tell you earlier that the flight changed to NorthWest." It didn't matter now, he was in my arms and we both were beaming.
I spun around and right before our eyes, the PGR fell into two lines to form an aisle. My son watched and said, "Whoah." I kept saying, "There are more coming..." and he would always answer with, "Wow." We walked down through the tunnel of flags, and then back again, but not before I handed my camera to someone to videotape it all.
As we made our way back to the other end, my son spotted a female soldier in uniform and I called her over. She was headed for Iraq, we gave her a send off mission along with my son's welcome home. Bittersweet moment. My son and I were glad to share the moment. Flags surrounding us, we went down one side shaking hands and the other soldier went down the other. It seemed all too soon, the flags were brought down and we had reached for the last hand shake. But, it was all good. My son had had a long trip, and though grateful to these people, he wanted to get home. They knew that and understood that. Oh, and the visuals I had on the drive there? Not even close to the actual event. It was better than I could ever have imagined!
Baggage in hand, other people not with the PGR extended their hands as we were leaving, "Thank you for your service", "Welcome Home, soldier"....my son beamed with pride. Got to admit, so did I.
My son is home. Right now the house is quiet in the early morning hours. But, last night it was filled with laughter and conversations. I will never forget that moment at the airport. It was perfect, even though we had the wrong gate! Because my son got to see them all fall in, and it seemed to go on forever. God bless the PGR and all those who stopped and shook my sons hand. It makes me proud to be an American as much as I am a Proud Momma of an American Soldier. My son will also never forget that sight. "It is good to know people are appreciative of what we troops do." We showed the video at home, our family and friends were floored.
So next time you are in an airport or anywhere for that matter, and see a soldier. Take a few minutes, extend your hand and share a moment with them. They appreciate it, and so will you.