The day starts out early for the sailors and their families. There has been little or no sleep the night before. Hearts race with excitement and apprehension. Wives reach across the bed, smiling softly, knowing that the last night they will sleep alone has just ended. Children wake up knowing that today is the day daddy comes home. The sights, the sounds, the excitement of a homecoming are just beginning.
For the sailors coming back from a long deployment, the day is like any other day. Reporting for quarters and the reading of the plan of the day. Breakfast is served, the ship gets cleaned, although with a little more sparkle and polish. The pilot boat carrying the bar pilot, who will guide the ship from the open sea through the channel to the pier, also carries the pre-ordered flowers for the wives and mothers and sweethearts who will be waiting on the pier. As the harbor pilot steps aboard, home is now a few hours away, not just something to dream of anymore. The captain comes over the ship's public address system just before sea and anchor detail to commend everyone aboard for a successful deployment and to wish them a happy homecoming. The sailors change into their whites and take their places around the flight deck. The American flag blows in the breeze as time stands still but slowly moves forward.
On the pier, the celebration and excitement is building. Balloons are bobbing high above the heads of the welcoming parties. Hands are brought to eyes to shield them from the sun as man, woman, and child look toward the horizon to see the first glimpse of the ship coming into the channel. There is nervous chatter, smiles, and children chasing each other around the grown-ups, bored with how long it all is taking. A grandfather lifts up his granddaughter to his shoulders and says to her, "Do you see your daddy's ship?" The little girl nods, not really knowing what she is looking for, just knowing that a daddy is something she hasn't seen for awhile and is not real sure what he looks like or sounds like; she was just starting to walk when he left.
It seems another eternity before the ship is anchored and ready to let the reunions begin. The brow is lowered. The babies born while dads have been gone are brought over first and introduced to their fathers. Next come the senior officer's families and then the rest of the crew's loved ones. It is a mad rush to find each other amongst so many. The children who fought over the fist hug are now all wrapped around their dad's kneeling form whose arms seem to have stretched far enough to hold them all. Sweethearts hug and kiss and kiss again. Moms hold their sons just a little tighter and their sons let them; fathers hug and then shake the hand of their grown son followed by a respectful salute.
All are home, safe and sound. The reunions and reacquainting with each other begins. The deployment is officially ended and the homecoming that started with apprehension is now filled with joy and happiness in being together once again. The families pile into their cars and little Susie yells out, "Dad, Michael hit me." The mother reaches for her husband's hand and with a coy smile says, "welcome home."
I hope you enjoyed this little vignette. I found it in some old files on our desktop and saw the date I wrote it was September 10, 2004. The pictures are from around 1996. This was a descriptive essay assignment for a creative writing class I took as a pre-req for nursing school. It seems a lifetime ago now that we were a Navy family, living this life of waiting for the ship to leave, come home and the next move right around the corner. I don't share this with you for thanks, I just share it with you to remember to thank not only our nation's service members but also their families, their spouses, children and extended family. We all sacrifice when a loved one is in the military. Thank the sailors and soldiers you know and tell them to "thank your family for me too." I will forever be thankful to families who were before me and those who have followed.