I ended up cutting a whole page (typed single spaced) from the beginning of this but its still pretty long. It takes place on a Sunday morning at a local war memorial. I had only just found out two days before this that G.I. Joe would be coming home so I was in shock. For this blog I wanted to give the whole story of those two days but I just decided I wanted to cut straight to the good stuff. :) Enjoy. I don't think words will ever do this memory justice, because its one of my absolute favorite moments ever.
The Girl who hits like a Defensive Tackle
Pulling up to the scene made everything seem real. All I kept thinking over and over was that when I left that place I’d be leaving with G.I. Joe. That was something I ached to do at the airport. It had been more than nine months since we had seen each other face to face, which caused my mind to race. Would he like my new hair cut? Will he even recognize me? What if he decides being home with me isn’t as good as he remembered? All these thoughts made my head spin. People were elbow to elbow and kids were running around all over the place. This wasn’t what G.I. Joe and I imagined our reunion to be like. After standing around with some people for a few minutes I felt sick. Friends and family kept asking me why in the world I’d be nervous about this. I felt more isolated and lonely there than I did at the airport the day G.I. Joe left. I thank God my parents were there with me. They understood what an emotional event this was for us.
Two other people there that day seemed to “get me” as well. One of them was our dear friend Brandon. His father is also a career soldier so they’ve been through many farewells and homecomings. Most of the pictures I have from that day were taken by Brandon as he followed me around. I treasure those pictures more than I do our wedding photos.
The other empathizer (if that’s even a word in the English language) was an unlikely one. G.I. Joe’s unit pulled up to the memorial in large tour buses. An explosion of cheering and clapping greeted them. Men in leather motorcycle jackets holding American flags lined the walkway from the parking lot all the way through the memorial. Those of us already on that side of the memorial were lucky enough to stand right by their path. I quickly took my place as close as possible to the sidewalk. All nerves left my body. From my spot I could see the soldiers getting off the buses. By this point I couldn’t hold back the tears. I had no way of knowing where G.I. Joe was in the sea of ACU’s but he was here. Trying to pull myself together I looked over and saw a girl watching me. She was the only other person who wasn’t watching the soldiers. The look she gave me was an understanding look that was well beyond her ten years of age. Her smile was a gentle one. It seemed to me that she had seen the look on my face many times before on her own mother’s.
Glancing back up I realized the soldiers were in line and ready to march. Their first steps were greeted with another burst of excitement. G.I. Joe’s unit was walking toward me in four tight lines. I didn’t dream of him being in the line closest to me. My knees were just weak over the fact that he was there, somewhere. Half way through the line I see him. Though there are 153 other men of similar height wearing the exact same thing he stood out like a beacon to me. Tears flowed again as G.I. Joe walked past me, close enough to reach out and touch. For nine months he felt like a dream but there he was.
As others moved by me I kept my eyes locked on G.I. Joe. I didn’t want him out of my sight ever again and I needed to be able to get to him as quickly as possible. After the unit got into formation in front of the stage it did not take long for the standing area across from them to fill up. I resigned myself to standing in the back but Brandon wouldn’t hear of it. He helped me get through the crowd so there was only one person in front of me. He or I must have made a noise or done something that got this woman’s attention. I don’t know exactly what happened but she turned around and realized that I was considerably shorter than her. She insisted I stand in front of her. For this woman I will be eternally grateful. I don’t remember what she looked like, hold old she was or whether or not she wore glasses. All I know is that she was incredibly kind so I am glad I didn’t have to knock her out of the way to get to my soldier.
When I settled into my spot the ceremony was under way. I knew there were many other emotional wives and excited children around so I knelt in my skirt on the ground to make sure others could see around me. The stage filled with important men was to my left and the unit to my right. It took seconds for me to spot G.I. Joe. He was in the front row so it would be easy for me to get to him after all the speeches were done. We were so blessed that this unit came home without any soldiers being killed in action. Because this homecoming was historic there were many speeches. The only thing about this that sticks out in my mind is that the governor spoke.
I don’t remember much of the speeches from that day. I kept watching G.I. Joe as if he might disappear if I look away. After the last “important man” spoke he said he was turning the floor over to Captain Neville. I didn’t mind that the Captain was going to speak. His words and leadership had a profound impact on my life before. I decided to actually listen to this speech. Captain Neville stood tall and proud in front of his troops. I wondered what wise words he would leave us with as a hush came over the crowds. For some reason I found myself holding my breath. Out of nowhere the Captain yelled the sweetest word I have ever heard, “DISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSMIIIISSSSSSSSED!”
All at once celebration erupted. Wives cried. Little kids squealed and let go of their red and blue balloons. Patrol caps were thrown into the air and I began to run. I ran faster than I ever had before. Everyone had broken formation and chaos, the good kind, ensued. I dodged strollers, zipped past the governor, and pushed a few soldiers out of my way. Even though everyone was moving I still kept my eye on G.I. Joe. He was turned to the section of families that were behind him and was looking for me there. I thought he saw me out of the corner of his eye but just then another soldier yelled “G.I. Joe!” He was turning to give the guy a high five when I plowed into him. The soldiers watching us laughed as I hit him so hard he began to wobble. Realizing that it was in fact his wife who had just leapt into his arms he held me tight as tears ran down our faces.
We had promised each other that as soon as possible we would leave that place and go home. After greeting friends and family and briefly chatting with reporters it was time to gather G.I. Joe’s things from the bus. Walking arm and arm we only let go for a moment so G.I. Joe could hand one of his bags to my dad. He threw the other one over his shoulder, took my hand in his and we headed to the car. Suddenly it began to rain on us. I got the urge to run once again. G.I. Joe in his uniform, carrying that heavy duffle bag and me in my ballet shoes began to run to the car. Not for the first in our life together, people stared. This time though they weren’t staring at “the girl.” They smiled and stared at “the couple” that were so in love they just had to run.