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Memorial Day… Coming Home

May 30, 2010

I have been blessed with a lot of really great days in my life.  There is the regular list:  the day I was married, day I graduated school, the birth of my kids… and all those were great days but my best day ever?  The day of Joel’s homecoming from his tour in Iraq.

I’m an avid read of The Pioneer Woman’s Blog and she is doing a photography competition celebrating “Coming Home”.  Click HERE or HERE or HERE or HERE to see the submissions.  I think it’s a beautiful assignment, especially since we’re in the midst of Memorial Day.  And it got me thinking about when Joel came home…

I can’t think of that day without getting emotional… I’ve actually got eyes full of tears just writing thing.  Joel and I were married in May and he deployed about seven months later.  At the time, he was an active duty infantry Marine.  We knew it was coming.  Between training and the deployment itself, we spent only about 3 months together total scattered throughout our first year of marriage.  And this was early off in Operation Iraqi Freedom – we didn’t have e-mail or phone contact.  A couple of times he managed to get in a satellite call to me to let me know he was okay (thus the reason I always had my phone attached to me).  He arranged to have his  sweet father send me flowers on any major days that he missed – a gesture that meant more to me than I ever imagined it could.  We sent lots of letters back and forth, although they usually came out-of-order and really didn’t give me a peek into what he was doing.  He even fashioned a box out of random cardboard & military grade duct tape and sent me some things he was able to get together – hot chocolate & a piece of gum from an MRE and a couple of letters. I still have (and love) that homemade box.

Do you remember the morning that they pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein?  I saw Joel on the news that morning.  Word spread quickly through the wives that “big news” was happening and camera crews were reporting with his battalion which meant I had a very small chance of seeing him on TV.  I threw in a tape and hit record on the VCR (yes, I said VCR) and then proceeded to strain my eyes to try to make out my new husband in a sea of camouflage.  In the midst of all that was going on, there was a brief shot of a Marine on a radio being yelled at by a French woman in western wear.  The whole scene was out-of-place with everything else going on until I realize that she was yelling at my Joel!  I’m not going to lie, the wife in me puffed up and I wanted to smack her in the face, but instead I found  joy in watching him completely ignore her and do his job as she got all up in his space – it was as if she wasn’t even there which was pretty impressive considering the fit she was pitching!

Back to coming home…. the wives began preparation early off.  If you’re familiar with the military and a deployment you know that the chances they’ll come home on the day you’re originally told are slim to none – that date/time will probably change at least a few times.  We were living in the desert at the time and there was  such a bustle of excitement and joy as the return date grew closer and the atmosphere changed from the unknown to our men returning on the horizon.  Wives got groomed and primped and new outfits were purchased.  We shopped for days to find the perfect outfit and accessories.  We waited anxiously for word on what the actual arrival day would be ready.  I’ll admit that the time leading up to the afternoon of their arrival is a blur, but as soon as we got a call that the buses were heading up the mountain, I was beyond giddy.  We lived off base in the next town over and two friends and I waited in a sand parking lot on the side of the road in hopes that we’d be able to wave at the  buses as they headed to base and maybe even see our men.  I’ll never forget the sight of those buses cresting the hill – I don’t think I’ve ever waved an American flag so wildly or screamed so loudly or jumped so high.  I couldn’t pick Joel out of the camouflage arms hanging out the windows but just knowing he was on the bus, that he was really coming home, was amazing and a stream of joyful tears began.  Many hours passed from the time we first saw those buses until the time we saw the buses again to unload our Marines.  They had to return and clean their weapons before they could  be reunited with us.  The wait was painful and the minutes and hours dragged on.  The sight of mothers cringing as little kids who’d been dressed perfectly to greet (or meet) their daddy  were getting muddy and dirty was almost too much to watch. The anticipation was palpable.   But then word came down again, the buses were coming.

Joel and I had agreed that he would have some sort of flag to wave because finding someone in a sea of Marines is not an easy task.  He came off the bus and I didn’t recognize him right away – one of my friends had found her husband and their reunion as he marveled at her now 8 month pregnant belly was captivating – and then I saw Joel.  So handsome, so thin, so strong, right in front of me.  We hugged for a long time and despite all of the briefs that they gave the wives about how to tread gently on husbands coming home, we instantly started goofing off – he was changed by the experience but he was somehow still intact.

I must admit, I didn’t think Joel was going to return home.  I have had a fair amount of loss in my life and I just assumed that it’d fit my story for him not to make it home.  When he did, it felt like my life was starting again – like I could finally let out a sigh of relief and drop the agreement I’d made that this relationship would end as many of my others – cut short prematurely by death.  Instead, he’d made it home alive and just in time for our first anniversary.  It was easily my best day ever.

This Memorial Day, remember those who have served valiantly for the freedoms that we often take for granted.  Remember the husbands and wives that have stayed behind to take care of their families while their loved one serve our country.  Remember and pray for the families whose loved ones did not come home alive.  Those that selflessly offer to serve our country are often overlooked.  The financial cost of their work is often criticized as they graciously follow the orders passed down from their Commander In Chief.  This Memorial Day, set aside your beliefs on what our military should or should not be doing and honor those who are serving us in our military and the families that support them.  Because our freedoms our not exactly free… coming home is proof of that.



6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2010 9:01 am

    Amazing story.

  2. Krista Boyce permalink
    May 31, 2010 11:31 am

    Thanks so much for the wonderful memories. So well spoken – I was tearful reading it too! I have to agree with you on it being one of my best days ever!

    • May 31, 2010 9:08 pm

      You had such a huge part in keeping all the wives organized and informed – and you created a wonderful community for us all. Such good memories from out in the desert! -I

  3. Midge permalink
    June 1, 2010 12:26 pm

    That was wonderful – and so accurate. There’s nothing like coming home – from both sides of the fence.

    • June 1, 2010 3:21 pm

      Thanks Midge! We’ve got to get together soon – I miss laughing with you (at Joel?)! 😉 -I

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