My son as all military people who are killed in foreign countries was flown out of Iraq, into Germany and then to Dover AFB for final prepping and identifications and all the rest of the jobs that they have been doing since the Vietnam war. We were told when he arrived there and our casualty officer informed us that when they were releasing him, that he would call us with an ETA. They at this point did not know where they would fly him into. We may have had to drive to Dallas TX (a hundred miles away) and then return. But the casualty officer worked hard to get my son flown directly into the Ardmore Airpark. We got the notification that my son was coming home a day or so later. The plans were made and the time set. We had met with the Patriot Guard a couple of days earlier and they were on board to escort us to the Airpark and then to the funeral home. There had already been call from the kooks from Wichita inquiring about my son’s arrival.
The day started like most for me in those days, with very little sleep and a lot of wandering around the dark house and yards just trying to make some sense of the changes in our lives in the past week. The morning was cool, overcast and raining off and on certainly my mood fit the weather. The night before had been huge thunderstorms and tornado’s dancing around the state. I heard the arrival of the lead element for the trip out to the airport. The Ardmore police motorcycle officers had arrived along with a Sheriff. The young deputy was ex-military and ex-101st Airborne, he wore his air assault wings on his Sheriff Uniform and had them also displayed on the rear window of his cruiser. The patriot guard was right behind them and I greeted then and thanked them for being there for us on this less than beautiful day. We gathered around talked and nervously shuffled around and readied ourselves for the trip ahead. My Son was coming home to us today.
The limo for us had arrived, and the driver who was also an Iraq veteran greeted us and was on the phone with the funeral director who was on the phone with the military folks and the Air Park to tell us when we should start that way. The call came in and we got into the limo and did our best to not talk too much or look each other in the eyes. Well, maybe that was just me? I wanted to be anywhere but there at the time. We made the trip out to the Airpark and I had to catch a breath when we got onto the Airpark to see the hundreds of motorcycles and the people who had gathered to be there when my son came home. They were respectful as a group of hundreds could be and stayed back away from the hanger where the plane would park to unload their precious cargo. A few media types from an local unnamed station almost had to be physically removed from the hanger itself by different security. They were not welcomed there no matter how much they insisted that they were.
The limo came to a stop and the driver got out and talked to some of the people there. Because of the weather mainly we were asked if we wanted to stay in the limo for a while. I was getting way too claustrophobic and antsy to sit inside anywhere and had to get out and get into the weather. I walked over to the line of cars near the hangar and talked with my Dad and a few of the relatives and close friends who had assembled near the hanger for a while. We got the alert that the plane was almost there and that the pilot had really put the spurs to it to get there when they were supposed to. The gray sky was making it a bit difficult to see but I heard the sound of the plane and soon it came into the pattern and landed. A larger private jet was contracted by the military. The white plane loudly taxied on it’s own up to the hanger and was shut down. The silence at that point was almost nerve wracking. They hooked a tow motor up to the plane and slowly dragged it all the way up into the hangar to the waiting honor guard. They were a squared away group and I never got even a whiff of any of them not being serious and on task the entire time they stood with us through this. The plane was chocked and as they were locking down, the hearse which I don’t even remember noticing was put into position right outside the hangar. They opened the aircraft up and placed some rolling accordion support thing out to the door which seemed more of a trouble than it was worth.
I had been holding on to Angie for this whole time and felt my family’s presence as we stood huddled together inside the hangar.. The second that the edge of the flag draped casket came into view from the inside of the plane. For a brief moment in time I was standing there completely alone it was just he and I alone in the world. There was only one other time that I felt like this, and that was the first few moments after he was born and they handed him to me. I guess this is the point in time where I made contact with him on that same emotional level. That moment was quickly over and the honor guard marched over to receive my son from the plane. They very orderly and purposefully took the coffin and placed in into the waiting hearse while all of the military and the air crew salutedor covered their hearts. We made our way back to the limo and climbed inside. The precession started to form right there. The line started to grow, the hearse made it’s way out onto the main road leading out to the two lane highway and the patriot guard led us out of the Airpark, there were hundreds of bikes leading the way out, we passed through the Airpark and right by the Dollar General DC where I worked for a few years, they had all but shut down the whole DC and all of the employees were out on the grass showing their respect. The slow ride back to town was full of glimpses of the caring people of the area. There was one that really stood out in my mind.. as we made our way through the farmlands that surround the Airpark. I spotted a lone figure of a farmer surrounded by a low gray mist way off in his field with his hand over his heart solemnly watching the long line of vehicles. I have no idea who he was, but that incident really made me feel that this wasn’t all just something we were dealing with alone as just one single family.
The huge precession rolled down the two-lane highway and got to Hwy 77 and made the turn south towards town. There were people stopping and getting out of the cars, some knew what was going on and a few others just looked completely confused. As we got closer to town the local police had blocked the cross traffic. I was saddened a bit that some of the city policemen just slouched around, some wore their hats and others did not and looked completely bothered by the whole thing.
We entered town at the north and rumbled all the way through the cemetery at the south end. There were literally hundreds of people who gathered at the road side and stopped what they were doing to show support for us and the young man who went off to a hostile foreign land and died representing them all trying to do the right thing. There were a few familiar faces in the crowds, but it was hard to really concentrate on much as we neared the final turn into the cemetery. The weather had cleared enough by this point that the temperatures were high enough to preclude the wearing of coats and wet weather gear.
The hearse came to a stop at the door of the funeral home, the honor guard assembled and dutifully removed the flag draped coffin and smartly moved it into one of the large rooms in the building. They placed in on the parapet and smartly moved away under a low toned cadence. The funeral director spoke with us and told us to take as much time as we liked in the room alone as a family. All I could do was to silently try mentally connect to my son, as I rested my hand on the top of the coffin. I can only hope that he heard me and knows all that I said. It was good at least to have him home.