I originally wrote and posted this in 2014. I offer it again today in celebration of Armed Forces Day, honoring those who have served and sacrificed that I may be free.
She sits alone before the massive windows of the terminal, staring absently at the tarmac. Silently she waits, radiating an air of calm introspection. It is not until one draws closer that they can see past the ramrod straight back and the soft but strong hands that clutch her purse strap, and read the stress in the lines on her face and the sadness hidden in her eyes.
She stands as she hears the whine of the approaching aircraft as it taxi’s to a stop before her. “Mrs. Turner?” the young officer says softly. “If you will kindly accompany me, I will escort you” he says, extending his white gloved arm. He looks so young she observes. Too young to be in uniform. Too young to be confronting the harsh realities of war. Just a child really, not unlike her own. They could have gone to school together, so close in age they seem. She accepts the pro offered arm and together, they proceed down a flight of stairs to the parking ramp.
They are joined by a color guard that silently forms a line from the ships hold to the waiting hearse. She absently glances up and is surprised to see the faces of many passengers looking down at her. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain. We have the honor today of welcoming home Army Specialist Chris Turner who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. I would ask that you remain seated while this hero is reunited with their loved ones, at which time, the tunnel will be extended to allow your departure.. Thank you”
She watches as the flag draped casket is carefully lifted from the plane to a wheeled cart. The honor guard snaps a salute and with all the dignity demanded by the situation, slowly move their comrade toward the hearse. She reaches out and touches the flag as it passes, remaining silent while the tears begin to carve their path down her face. Soon the door to the hearse closes and it silently leaves. She struggles to find a tissue in her purse when the young officer offers her a white handkerchief and quietly places his arm around her shoulder.
“This is it” she thinks. “This is how it ends”. All those wonderful years of childhood, only to come to this. She hadn’t wanted Chris to join the military, what with the conditions in the world being what they are. But with the bravado of youth, she had finally been cajoled and persuaded to give her blessing, knowing full well that it could come to this and praying every day that it wouldn’t. She knew that she was not alone. So many mothers. So much sorrow. So many unanswered prayers. Young lives with so much to live for, so much to give, sacrificed. The weddings that would never happen. The families that would never be started. It would be very easy to be bitter. To blame the military for not doing enough to protect them. But she couldn’t. They had made a choice. This is what they wanted to do. They too knew the possible consequences and chose to meet them for what they believed in.
As she returns to the terminal and, with subdued mind and body climbs the stairs, she is met by a crowd of people. The passengers stand in groups waiting for her. Slowly the sound of applause rises as she walks toward them. She notes that she is not the only one crying. She hears murmured comments. “I’m so sorry for your loss”. “May God bring you peace”. One woman steps forward and impulsively gives her a hug. “I want to extend my condolences. I too have a son in the Army and I worry about him every day. I pray that he will be returned unharmed. I know there is nothing I can say to offer you comfort. I don’t know what I would do if I lost my son.”
Her mind continues to race with all the emotions that have been laid before her. The pain of loss. The outpouring of love. The finality of it all. She is thankful for the hug and knows the woman meant well. She is unsure whether to say anything. It is such a common mistake. In the end, she knows she must. Her eyes hold the woman’s gaze, and the compassion is obvious. Gently taking the woman’s hand and giving it a slight squeeze, she forces a smile and says “Thank you. Chris was my daughter.