Monday, November 15, 2010


No one expects a business trip to Kansas to be eventful.  I don't mean Kansas City, either, the Missouri or the Kansas side. I don't even mean Lawrence, or Manhattan where they have those big, college parties going on most of the time. 
I used to spend a great deal of time in airports…traveling was part of my job. For a period of about 5 weeks I found myself on a project that had me flying in and out of Wichita, Kansas on business. Some big city folks may make fun of Wichita for being “small”, or, for being in the middle of nowhere…especially the airport. Some may never have even heard of it. I loved the Wichita airport. It's small enough to get in and out of, easily. It's sophisticated enough to have wireless internet that really works every time I've been there (AND FREE!!!). The airport lounge staff was always nice to our group of corporate rats that they had become accustomed to seeing fly in and out. In short, as flying goes, it was a most pleasant experience.

One particular day I was privileged to witness a scene that is probably repeated many times over, in big cities and small towns.  In airports, train and bus stations, front porches and driveways all over this country- someone is returning home. 

That day, at the airport, was not business as usual for me. It was emotional. Who expects that? I was standing on the security line, making conversation with the attendant that worked there because we came to recognize each other thanks to my frequent trips. I noticed a crowd had gathered just beyond the checkpoint. I didn't need to be told that troops were coming home. I saw families waiting, I saw a few hand held signs…Welcome back Fill-in-the Blank…WE LOVE YOU! I saw American flags, waving. There were men and women in uniform, awaiting their buddies' return…all eagerly looking towards the empty hallway.  Pretty soon, it was obvious that just beyond my view, a plane had pulled up to some unseen gate and discharged its passengers. A stream of people began to walk out past the rest of us waiting to get in, toward the gates. After a few moments there were subdued gasps and screams from a few in the crowd…There she is! There he is!  I saw one woman come running from across the terminal…the way she body-slam-hugged her husband would have made any NFL linebacker proud. A young couple found each other and walked away holding hands. The woman was very obviously pregnant and appeared to be ready to start labor any minute. He had arrived home just in time for the birth of their baby, I am sure of it.

As I stood there watching the intense reunions, I noted to myself that the media was not present here. No cameras, no interviews, no flashes, no marching bands. Troops returning home was no longer considered a newsworthy event. It was now, just another part of the American landscape. This moment was a landmark event for the families and friends, but it no longer captivated CNN's imagination. 

Suddenly, I realized that I had welled up with emotion. I was on the verge of tears.   I noticed that many of the people standing in line with me, watching the same scene of strangers returning home to their friends and families, had also been moved to tears. I felt compelled, obligated even, to stand there and watch until everyone that had been waiting, found the person they were waiting for.

             For once, I was glad that the line was long.


ehowton said...

I never tire of this one.

Unknown said...

I traveled through ATL often a few years back and used to see that scene unfold every time soldiers returned home. Very emotional to see, and also nice to watch fellow civilians help these soldiers with their luggage and just reach out and shake their hands and say thank you.