There’s something really special about sunrise on the tarmac. Because sometimes it’s the last sunrise the soldiers will see on American soil for a while and sometimes it’s the first sunrise they see when they’re back on American soil. I’m blessed to be part of either one.
This day started out bittersweet. I was working my third deployment flight for that day. It was around 6:30am and I had been at the terminal since 12:30 the night before. I still had three more flights to work. The sun was rising, soldiers were walking to the plane and the whole sky was a beautiful deep pink. The color that only mother nature can you give you and can’t be duplicated. I’m watching the soldiers go by wondering if they notice the sky. the last sunrise they will see on American soil for a long time. I just quietly watch..lost in my thoughts. When the soldiers leave they pass thru a line of American flags…on one side the flags are held by the Red Cross on the other by USO…there’s seldom less than 4 large flags billowing as they pass and the volunteers cheer them on. The same is true when they come home. They walk thru the line of flags, cheering volunteers and well wishers.
Once loaded the plane took off. We watched until it disappeared into the morning sky. Then we all went in and got ready for the next flight…but this was a homecoming. I’m in the store room when I hear a lot of people talking. A lady comes in our room and says there’s a wounded soldier in the building and his unit is on the plane. He has come to meet them. I finished what I was doing and walked out of the store room. There he was..a smiling happy guy..in a wheel chair..with 2 little boys a wife and his dog. We got word the plane was coming so went out and lined up like always. We saw him making his way over to the plane stairs. I noticed someone with a walker. We all thought maybe a second wounded warrior was on the plane..but nope. When the soldiers started getting off the plane, from across the tarmac, I saw that soldier stand and greet his battle buddies. And he stood up using the walker until every soldier was off the plane. I was so busy watching him I wasn’t paying much attention to the soldiers who were home and passing me! Each one going thru our line of flags and cheers. I saw him being wheeled back over to where we all were. He took a place closest to the door but back from our line. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I’m not sure if I have ever seen that much emotion in a person’s face. He was smiling ear to ear..but something just bothered me. That’s when I realized..he hadn’t been given a “proper” Savannah homecoming..he hadn’t come thru the line. So I asked a Warrant Officer with him to please see if he would go thru. She went over bent down and whispered to him. The look on his face brought me to tears. He looked down the line at the flags and in a few minutes went to the beginning of the line and waited. We always stay outside until every soldier is in the building. It’s hard to tell how many are left since they all wear the same thing lol. One of the volunteers said..”ok..that’s it. They’ve all come thru” I said no, that’s not it yet.” He looks and says oh yeah I see one more coming…when that soldier passed the volunteer AGAIN..said that’s it..I said no it’s not..he looked at me funny and started to say something else..I’m usually very quiet and don’t speak out much..which explains the look of shock on his face when I firmly said NO IT’S NOT it..we have one more…and I nodded to the soldier in the wheel chair..the volunteer said..oh well he doesn’t count..he’s not coming thru the line..I said like HELL HE DOESN’T COUNT!! And he IS coming thru so stand down and wait…thankfully the soldier in the wheelchair didn’t hear any of this..and with the last of the soldiers off the plane thru the line..his wife pushed him thru the flags, down the line to the loudest cheers anyone got all day…his face was beaming with pride, my eyes were blurred with tears…he came thru the line..and now he was officially home.