Tag Archive for 'family'

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Bringing It Home

My trip to North Carolina on Wednesday was largely uneventful, despite national news coverage of the weather in Ohio as I left. On the second flight, however, things took a turn for the unpleasant. Midway through the flight the captain came on the loudspeaker, and, between the crackle of the system and the roaring of the engines, I could tell that this was no ordinary announcement. Nor was it of the John-Cleese-the-wings-are-not-on-fire sort. I wish to God that it had been.

Instead, what I could make out of the pilot’s speech was this: we had two American soldiers–the pilot used the words “two American heroes,” and I’ll agree out of respect for those who serve in the military–onboard our flight. One, whose rank I didn’t catch, was escorting his friend, a staff sergeant, back home. For the last time. They had both been in Iraq.

When we landed, the escort rose and made his way to the front of the aircraft, while the remainder of the passengers remained seated, applauding. He paused at the entry, raised his hand, nodded once. I can’t be certain, but it looked as though the back of his head was scarred and slightly burnt. The pilot and co-pilot met him and led him off the plane. From my place over the starboard wing of the aircraft, I watched as a white hearse drove up, and an officer carrying a flag, wrapped in the same triangle we used to make at Girl Scout camp, greeted the escort with a salute. Several minutes later, a dozen more soldiers marched into place on either side of the cargo belt. A coffin, black in the night, crawled into view and they spread the flag over it while the guard saluted.

Tears burned in my eyes, but I resisted the urge to cry in public. Who was the young man and why had he gone to war? Why did the government send him?

I burst into tears the moment I hugged my father, and, for awhile, my parents couldn’t understand my attempts at explanation. How terrible and shallow was I to think little of going home to see my family when this young man would never see his family again?

It’s easy enough to ignore the pictures of coffins on television or the headlines when they announce a new mark for the number of soldiers killed (the civilians remain unnumbered and will remain so). But I can’t see how anyone can face those coffins and flags and uncomforted families. How can we let this go on?