He was a handsome young man and he came through the airport terminal late last night with self assurance and with confidence beyond his years. He must have been the last person off of our plane, which was so late in arriving that the terminal was all but shut down for the night. Perhaps he waited for the pineapple-toting vacationers, some college kids, and the rest of us to disembark and clear out of the public area, or he took a minute to compose thoughts and feelings, to wash up and look at his reflection in a mirror on the Men's' Room wall.
Wearing civilian clothes, he could be mistaken for a student, a musician, or a junior partner in some law firm . He is none of those; he is a soldier coming home for the Holidays.
I was privileged to watch.
Family members that included an anxious Mom, a preteen girl holding a hand drawn WELCOME HOME poster, and a few other adults and children had been waiting a long time. They were restless. A gentleman in a suit and tie waited with them. He wore medals of combat on his chest and a VFW hat on his head. An honor guard, of sorts. They were positioned where they could see the passengers descend on the escalator , head for baggage claim, and then to the cars idling at the curb.
I stood back, unnoticed, to wait with them.
The kids saw him first, and the excitement escalated. He rode the escalator down and saw them waiting. Hugs, tears, and camera flashes from the family; then a quiet handshake from the older veteran said what words could not. The young man then turned to his mother she fell into his open arms. This was the moment she had waited and prayed for, the hope that kept her strong. He lifted her off the ground and hugged her for a long time. He had waited and prayed and hoped, too. Their laughter and tears collided. Mine did, too.
As they all began to walk away, I touched his arm and when he turned to me I thanked him for his service, welcomed him home, and wished him a Merry Christmas. I'm sure he will not remember me, but I will never forget him.