My deployment began to wind down, and my focus started to change. The deadline loomed over me darkening my thoughts, my every waking moment circled all that I’d done.
“How do I deal with all these dead children? How do I build a normal relationship with my children after seeing so many hurt?”
I had no idea, so I focused on work. As we loaded our gear and prepared for our return home, I worried about my children, and my marriage.
On the evening we left, my heart raced. The stain of war was not something I could wash off. Small talk happened all around me, everyone was excited to return home.
“Hey Freeman, you excited to see that new kid of yours?”
“Oh yeah. I can’t wait.”
I was excited to see her, but I worried that I wasn’t up to the task of being a good father, or that my heart wouldn’t be in it.
We landed in Shannon, Ireland for fuel, and then continued to Newfoundland, Canada. From there we flew into St. Paul, Minneapolis.
I’m not sure I can explain what I felt when we crossed into American airspace.
The pilot came across the airwaves with this tidbit:
“It is our honor to welcome the Seventh United States Cavalry back to the USA. After a year in hostile lands, our boys have returned home.”
Even as I write this I am warmed by the memory. And just like this morning, my eyes dampened with tears, as ‘God Bless America’ burst forth from the lips of those who could sing, and even those of us who had no idea of how to carry a tune.
We disembarked and passed through customs. Across the speakers of the airport, we were welcomed home. People stood to their feet and cheered. It was a moment that I’ll never forget as long as I live.
My memories of the war seemed distant. It was as if returning home made everything right.
Too bad it wouldn’t stay that way.
From St. Paul, we traveled to Fort Hood, Texas. We arrived at the airport, loaded into buses, and was driven to 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters.
I can’t remember what time we arrived, but it was late in the evening, probably near wee morning. We stepped off the buses, formed a loose formation and all but ran across the parade field.
A colonel waited for us at a lectern. Family members cheered and screamed. The officer tapped on the microphone and said:
“It’s my honor to welcome home our very own Seventh Cavalry. After a year abroad, our men are home. I’m not going to hold you guys up any longer. Commanders, release your men to their families.”
After a quick safety briefing, we were released. Family members screamed out names and descended upon us. Hugs were given, backs slapped, and welcome homes shouted.
I found my wife and daughters in the middle of the madness. We stood apart from each other and stared.
“Daddy,” my oldest daughter yelled as she rushed toward me. I reached down and picked her up and embraced her. My wife and youngest daughter completed the circle.
We were together once again.