The Americans

I heard applause from the other side of the terminal. It was loud. There was cheering. Whistling. Hollering. I turned to look—so did everyone else. It sounded like the Second Coming of Elvis.

The airport. I wasn’t flying. I was filling out paperwork for a rental car. The woman behind the counter claimed she would upgrade me to a Super-Duper-Grade vehicle for only twenty-nine bucks.

I agreed.

So she pressed further. For another fifty big ones, she offered to upgrade me to the Ultra Super-Duper-Grade Platinum rental.

No can do. I’m allergic to platinum.

Then.

I heard applause from the other side of the terminal. It was loud. There was cheering. Whistling. Hollering. I turned to look—so did everyone else. It sounded like the Second Coming of Elvis.

On an escalator were men and women in camouflage and boots, carrying backpacks.

They waved to those hollering.

The first man off the stairs walked to a woman with a toddler on her hip. He dropped his bag and group-hugged them.

More young men and more young women in uniform rolled down the electric stairs.

A tall black woman in uniform. She set her bags down. Two boys came running—no older than three or four. They sprinted, full force, and knocked her over.

Next: a man. Broad shoulders and a strong walk. He made a beeline for an older woman. He stooped to let her kiss his forehead. She did more than kiss him. She almost broke his neck.

The clapping started to fizzle. But each new pair of desert boots earned at least a few shouts.

Even some strangers in the airport joined the cheering. Take, for instance, this redheaded stranger.

The woman from the rental company came from behind her desk and stood with me. The rest of the airport had returned o business as usual.

Not me and my new platinum-rental friend. We watched the reunions. Some were tearful. Others were pure elation.

Young men dropped duffle bags and rushed toward young women who held hand-drawn posters. Couples kissed. Kids screamed, “Mommy!” or, “Daddy!”

Some uniforms made their ways toward the exits without welcome committees or hand-painted signs. God love them.

Another young man deboarded. He was tall, slight. He had a lean neck and blonde hair. He resembled a telephone pole with freckles.

There was a family waiting for him, a big one. Mother, father, brother, sister, cousins, in-laws, neighbors, family physicians, yard men, and life insurance representatives. Everyone wore matching yellow T-shirts.

The boy’s fair complexion turned redder than a Venus Eagle cherry.

Another young woman in fatigues set her backpack down when she stepped off the stairs. She covered her mouth.

A man from the crowd walked toward her, carrying a bouquet. He touched her face. They pressed their foreheads together.

The rental car cashier beside me said, “Don’t you just love this?”

We talk. She is originally from Guatemala. She has lived here since age twenty. Her hair is faded now, and there are lines on the corners of her eyes. But she is American, even though her accent is thick.

“I work here four years,” she said. “Whenever I see the military people do like this, it make me feel so, so, what is the word?”

The word is “proud,” ma’am.

Damn proud.

20 comments

  1. Sharon - June 21, 2017 2:47 pm

    “Proud” is the emotion that you feel when standing for the National Anthem: the presenting of our great flag; and for those who have served this great country in whatever capacity. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  2. Cathi Russell - June 21, 2017 3:08 pm

    Another weepy glee reading!!! Thank you for sharing them with me this morning!

    Reply
  3. C Johnson - June 21, 2017 3:21 pm

    Proud is how I felt when I pinned on my daughter’s Lieutenant bars on to her USMC uniform. Thank you for writing this. A proud American.

    Reply
  4. Dolores Fort - June 21, 2017 3:47 pm

    I am so very proud of our military and our new Commander in Chief. All of them have sacrificed so much so that we can have our freedoms. My 5 brothers all served; 4 in WW II and 1 in Korea. My husband and 3 of his brothers served; 2 in WW II and 2 in Korea. The military has a very special place in my heart!
    Thank you. Sean, for sharing this very special time of reunion, and the stirring of memories.

    Reply
  5. George - June 21, 2017 3:48 pm

    Yes Sir, it does make you proud to be an American.

    I traveled weekly for twenty years through airports all over the USA and anytime I saw them departing or returning I thanked them for their service.

    Reply
  6. Ellen Evans - June 21, 2017 4:09 pm

    Because I fly in an out of both Pensacola and Ft Walton Airports, I too have had the privilege to see our soldiers get their welcome home greeting and you did a wonderful job describing this simple and pure experience. I have sat next to grown officers carrying stuffed pink teddy bears and young recruits holding flowers for the entire duration of the flight waiting for their plane to land. Then getting to witness the intendeds joy upon seeing their loved one. Every Senator, Congressman and news journalist should witness this and they would stop describing our soldiers as boots on the ground. I feel both proud and humbled simultaneously whenever I get to experience a reunion.

    Reply
  7. Betsy Brown - June 21, 2017 4:22 pm

    Such a beautiful word picture. I have experienced this once and it is somthing I will never forget. Tears of pride here. I cried over Brother Boy as well.

    Reply
  8. Kathy kyzar - June 21, 2017 4:24 pm

    I have seen it, too. Cry every time. Cried reading this. You manage to put into words the things I feel but can’t quite describe. Thanks for the daily “uplifts”.

    Reply
  9. Susan - June 21, 2017 5:08 pm

    I’m crying here. And I’m proud, too!

    Reply
  10. Jack Quanstrum - June 21, 2017 6:34 pm

    It makes me proud to. What could be greater then serving your country. Thank you for the story, Sean. Proud but sobering.

    Reply
  11. MaryJane Breaux - June 21, 2017 6:48 pm

    For many years a group at DFW welcomed home our heros. As moving as that experience is, it is much more moving to send them off. I worked with a group of USO folks. We were there with flags, full USA regalia. I loved the Kissing Granny’s! I found that there were two types of troops, the younger ones wanted to soak up all the TLC we had to offer. The more experienced preferred zero contact and their headphones as if they were literally preparing for battle. I will never forget and I will be forever grateful for all who serve.

    Reply
  12. Kay Keel - June 21, 2017 8:00 pm

    Dang Skippy they make me feel proud!

    Reply
  13. Sandra Herrin Swindall - June 21, 2017 8:29 pm

    My dad returning from Vietnam in 1969 when I was 14 years old – Best day of my life!

    Beautiful story Sean – thank you.

    S.Swindall
    Montevallo, AL

    Reply
  14. Sam Hunneman - June 21, 2017 8:31 pm

    I find myself really looking forward to a daily dose of the GOOD of this country, Sean. The GOOD, and the REAL, and the YES, I GIVE A DAMN ABOUT SOMETHING BESIDES WHAT PUTS MONEY IN MY POCKET. Thank you.

    Reply
  15. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way - June 21, 2017 9:27 pm

    Yes! Indeed!! My son is in the military and I can’t see a service person without wanting to run up to them and give them a hug. Thank you so much for your sacrifice. The South has pride! Pride in it’s roots; pride in the young men and women who protect our freedoms. You did it again — I’m wiping tears!

    Reply
  16. Janne Swearengen - June 21, 2017 9:27 pm

    We need a lot more proud and a lot less loud. Thanks, Sean

    Reply
  17. Patricia Gibson - June 21, 2017 10:21 pm

    Yes it does!!

    Reply
  18. Susan in Georgia - June 22, 2017 3:38 am

    Damn proud. Damn right.

    Reply
  19. Sandra Swindall - June 22, 2017 12:31 pm

    1969 – my 8th grade year of school – my father returned safely home from Vietnam. Best day ever.

    Thanks for your stories as always.

    Sandra Swindall
    Montevallo, AL

    Reply
  20. John Hill - June 22, 2017 1:44 pm

    Wonderful. I too have witnessed a few family reunions at the airport, they special experiences. God bless our service men and women

    Reply

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