The call came in Saturday morning. Dozens of American flags had been set along 100 West from Vine Street, lining both sides of the street for two blocks to the humble bungalow where a colorful sign proclaimed “Welcome Home! Daddy.” A warrior was coming home to a hero’s welcome.
Yellow ribbons and balloons twined around the tree in the front yard. Next door a World War II veteran busily erected a flag on his garden trellis.
The private parade for one man, father of two, husband and warrior, was arranged by his church and the Boy Scouts of America. On the crystal clear February morning the flags, silent soldiers, saluted his service and celebrated his return.
It was a magnificent sight.
So many soldiers are returning from war. They come home to families of five, or new brides, or parents who have waited with a combination of pride and fear through the days and months while their husband, fathers, sons and daughters were fighting overseas.
Some come home to new babies, others to newly widowed mothers. Some pick up their lives without any problem, fitting back in to their jobs and church obligations and home responsibilities seamlessly. Others find their careers are gone.
A few ride into town on fire trucks, greeted by flag-waving strangers and friends. More simply get off the airplane, hug their loved ones and quietly return home.
But all of them are heroes. As I drove down the flaglined street Saturday, I was reminded of another homecoming I witnessed three weeks ago. Traveling from Salt Lake City to Tooele my family and I noticed a procession on I-80 eastbound. We saw the motorcycle escort first, the fire trucks and then the hearse. Finally we saw a car bearing the Marine Corps flag.
It was then we remembered the Utah Marine who had been killed when his helicopter crashed in Iraq. We were witnesses to the funeral procession of a man we did not know.
But the sight of the military escorting his casket was a stark slap of reality. As I silently wiped away tears, I realized Iraq wasn’t so far away after all.
If it were possible, I would make sure each soldier, sailor and Marine returning home would be met with a flag-waving, crowd-cheering, old-fashioned ticker tape parade. Such a celebration would be a small way to repay those who have risked their lives and given up huge chunks of time to serve this country.
I cannot personally thank them all. Nor can I tell all their stories. I can, however, publicly tell them how grateful I am for their service. Whether or not they come home to flag-lined streets, I hope all of them know America is proud and grateful to our military heroes who have volunteered to do what needed to be done.