Yesterday was the Cinco de Mayo celebration around the country, another largely misunderstood day that provides an excuse to get loaded and eat guacamole on chips. It was a beautiful day here in the Swirl...sun up and bright early, just a hint of an early morning chill with the promise of heat coming.
It was the Kentucky Derby day, too. Fancy hats, expensive horses and Mint Juleps...with an unexpected winner. An exciting race if you are a fan, not so much if you had money on Bodemeister.
At Fort Carson they had a "Spartan Race"...not sure what it was but it drew a big crowd. I wasn't much interested. Quoting Saint Waylon, "I doesn't do it anymore"....too old for that kind of fun.
Of all the events of the day, though, I chose to attend the one that turned out to be the best of them all. My grandaughter's husband returned from Afghanistan yesterday and Fort Carson put on the usual Homecoming to-do.
Homecomings have evolved; we came home from Vietnam individually, no great formations or ceremonies, just a new set of greens and some travel pay to get home on.
When we came home from DESERT STORM, the focus was on the photo-op, new Sandies and a General's handshake, insufferably long speeches, mandatory viewings of videos from Whitney and of all people, Ted and Jane, while our families waited across town in our motorpool for buses to bring us in from the airport...no cameras there.
When I walked into the old gym that doubles as the Homecoming Center at Fort Carson, I just stood and felt a totally different atmosphere from the many other homecomings I have attended, either as an observer, a welcomer, or a returner. First of all, there was a table full of stuffed animals that were donated for the children of the returnees, a table full of goodies like brownies, cookies, donuts, and muffins and a couple of urns full of coffee...all free for the greeters and the families of the returnees. A blow-up playground was in full swing with dozens of kids playing on it, with no regard for how much noise they made or who was around to hear it (in the "Old Army", kids were expected to act like adults and show some "decorum").
There was the air of a carnival; festive, noisy, and just an all- around fun place to be. I watched videos of some of the modern day country patriot songs, enjoyed watching the young wives all gussied up for their returning heroes, and watching little kids chase each other around with an expectancy of something about to happen...something GOOD. At one point my number-three son came up to me and with a teary smile told me that this was such a neat place to be...because all those little kids' daddies were coming home today.
Then they played "God Bless the USA", Lee Greenwood's recently controversial standard, and a cloud of smoke shot in under the double doors; the doors flew open and in marched the 200 soldiers in their camos and the ceremony began. The National Anthem (with dozens of little people standing with their hands over their hearts), a very short informal speech by the Division Commander simply thanking the troops and their families for their service and sacrifices. Then a rousing singing of the Fourth Infantry Division Song followed by the Army Song and it was over. Short, sweet and yes...moving.
Then the formation was dismissed and the stands emptied in seconds as all them pretty wives and daughters and mothers and friends flooded in among the soldiers; hugs, kisses, smiles and tears...they were home and safe.
My grandaughter's husband came out of the crowd with my grandaughter permanently attached to him; we made greetings and shook hands and hugged and after a very short conversation, we moved his bags into the car and moved out. Flash to bang...not more than a half hour. MC and I took the two younger sibs with us out to the Golden Corral for breakfast; son number three and his wife took the permanently attached, recently re-joined couple off to the Antler Tree for their festivities.
I was prepared to be a disinterested observer, the "been-there-done-that" attitude. But I have to admit that my eyes leaked some, my heart swelled, and I felt pride...pride in the young men who marched into the gym.
Back in the day, when someone asked us "Why do you do it?", we made up silly answers to avoid deeper thought or conversation, we said we were in it for the money or the "Fun, Travel and Adventure" (FTA was a common graffitti in those days...but it didn't stand for "Fun Travel and Adventure). On Saturday the Cinco de Mayo, Kentucky Derby, Spartan Day, I saw why we did it, why they do it, why it needs to be done. Families. The military families make unbelievable sacrifices so that everyone else's families can live free from fear and threat. It doesn't matter to the men in uniform who sits in the White House, or who says what about each other, the military and their families pay for our freedom and our security with their time, their talent, their fears and sometimes their blood.
Memorial Day is coming...