That was 27 years ago and since that time, I’ve remained a volunteer through many facets of the Red Cross. Wednesday & Thursday, two National Guard units returned home from Afghanistan and Kuwait after a year of active duty. Since I work near the location where they would be welcomed home, I could spare a few hours of my personal time from work during lunch to help make posters with the families while they waited.
I rearranged a few meetings and drove to the Armory. It’s funny. On Wednesday, a lady that I recognized walked up to me and said, “I am so glad to see you, how’s your brother?” I couldn’t remember her name, then I realized, she was someone I’d grown up with and her son was part of the unit coming home. For the rest of the hour, I sat with a man who drove down from another county and just wanted to talk. He told me that he didn’t need a sign, that he would be glad to have his son home.
Thursday, I took my camera, not just my cell phone camera. A different unit arrived and a “motorcycle gang” of veterans set out flags lining the road, to welcome home the 875th Engineering unit. Most of these family members were as nervous as cats in a room full of rocking chairs. Some had posters and some did not. They were grateful for my offer to write “Welcome Home …” and then told me the name to write at the bottom. The three other volunteers (Max, Alex and William) told me that they were glad that I showed up, because they didn’t have pretty handwriting but they were great at giving out snacks and bottles of water.
My favorite part of the hour was when a little boy named David walked up to me and said, “My Daddy is coming home and I don’t have a poster.” So I made a poster and David decorated it. I asked him if his dad would recognize him after a year and he nodded. He then told me that they were going to go fishing and four-wheeling. More families arrived and the excitement grew. I can’t remember how many other posters I made, but that doesn’t matter. I almost cried.
In my 26 years volunteering with Red Cross, I’ve seen a lot and I’ve heard a lot. I’ve sent a lot of messages for the military… death verifications, birth notifications, requests to come home for illness and the distressed calls from parents during wartime… Volunteering with the Red Cross, I’ve handed out bottles of water, packs of crackers and meals (some from my own kitchen).
Yesterday’s Welcome Home and seeing little David run into his Dad’s arms … that made that 2 a.m. call from a drunk asking if I could teach him First Aid all worth it.
Hearing David tell me “I busted my dady’s lip when I hugged him” made it worth that 3 a.m. call from the fire department asking me to dispatch a disaster team.
Seeing the motorcycle veterans line up with flags to honor their fellow soldiers in a way that they were never welcomed home made me proud and made it worth the night of the ice storm in 2002 when I answered 148 calls for Mecklenburg County (when I live in Lincoln County … and I was on call for Greater Carolinas at the time & I didn’t have power either).
Welcome Home 875th & 882nd. Thank you for Serving.