Thirty nine years ago I returned home from my “time at war.” Deplaning in Chicago after more than 24 hours of travel I was met at the gate by…no one. I couldn’t understand why no one had made it to meet me at the gate. The emptiness was overwhelming. I waited on the curb with my sea bag waiting for my father to pick me up.
Recently the 186th Oregon National guard returned from their “time at war” in Iraq. American flags, yellow balloons, signs and families waited to welcome them home. I was there as a photojournalist to document the emotions, tears, smiles and tender moments that I missed when I deplaned in Chicago almost a lifetime ago. In reality, I wanted to be there to share in this welcome home as if it was my own.
I wanted to feel the excitement of coming home to a “grateful nation.” At least that is what I thought I was there for. God, fate, the Universe, whatever you want to call it….mine is God…He had sent me there for a different reason.
As I swam through the sea of emotions, recording the reuniting families, I saw me…er him. One lone soldier was sitting of the curb. His eyes were misty, the tears growing and his face showing the strain of being alone…alone at a time of reunion and renewal. I recalled the feeling from so long ago. I waited a moment remembering being alone on the curb, waiting, waiting… I couldn’t help myself and I crossed the line from journalists to “brother.” I reentered the family of soldiers. I hung my camera by my side and walked over to him.
I offered my hand, he took it and I said “Welcome home soldier.” I saw some small sign of thanks in his face. I hope he understood my feelings of gratitude, my feeling of joy that he had returned home alive.
I now understood the unknown reason for my being there, I felt my purpose complete. My time on the curb had some meaning. I felt good inside.
In my welcoming this lonely soldier home I truly had become part of and truly felt the emotion of the moment. I heard that distance voice I wanted hear, the words I wanted spoken to me when I deplaned so many years ago…the words so many returning Viet Nam vets wanted to hear…the words I waited to hear my father speak when he met me at the curb…