Veterans Day, Complete With All the Feels

Marines march in New York City on Veterans Day 2011. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton
Marines march in New York City on Veterans Day 2011. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton

Veterans Day was originally established as Armistice Day in the United States in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson to honor everyone who has served in America’s Armed Forces, living and dead. In today’s age of instant photos and videos, Veterans Day is now a time where Americans can share in some of the most precious moments in a military family: the homecoming.

We’ve all seen the videos of a service member coming home, surprising the children, spouse, or his/her parents–whether it’s on YouTube or through a news outlet. Maybe you saw a homecoming in person at the airport or at a local sporting event.

I don’t know about you, but those always hit me right in the feels. It’s such a happy time.

This has been a pretty tumultuous week in America. We could all use some uplifting stories to help brighten spirits and remind us that America is much more than whether your favorite candidate won the presidency.

I’ve been on three sides of the military homecoming: as a child, welcoming my father home from numerous deployments, as an adult, greeting my husband from his deployments, and I’ve been the servicemember returning from two deployments and a two-year-long overseas tour to my husband and two sons.

I’ve been part of my share of surprise reunions too. My husband surprised his parents in 2003 when he returned home from Iraq just in time for Christmas. He had a long trip home, several times getting bumped from higher priority cargo and passengers such as medical evacuees, and didn’t want people to get overly excited about him being home for Christmas, only to disappoint if he didn’t make it. So he kept things quiet until he set foot in Orlando airport at about 1am on Christmas Eve. This was well before smartphones and instant videography, so I don’t have any record of the homecoming, unfortunately. He was thrilled to be part of Christmas shopping for our 15-month old son: his first Christmas where we could buy him real toys! We went to Tampa for Christmas dinner with his brother and parents and it was a wonderful surprise.

2009patricia_boys_omaha_b4_deployment
January 2009. It was tough saying goodbye to my babies for 4 months while I served in the Middle East. Many in our armed forces have to say goodbye for much longer. Technology like Skype assured them that I wasn’t gone forever. Image credit: Patricia Vollmer

I returned from my last deployment on the night before Easter in 2009. My flight came in late at night, so a neighbor sat at the house with our sleeping sons after they went to bed so my spouse could go to the airport to pick me up. I was waiting for my sons with their Easter baskets the following morning.

Let’s thank those who have helped protect our freedoms by giving some of these homecoming videos some of our attention, shall we?

Surprises at big events like weddings and graduations bring tears to my eyes every time.

Or how about while you’re in labor, assuming your husband will be attending to the birth via Skype (which happens routinely now)?

Homecomings with the dad getting to see his child for the first time are especially emotional. I have many memories in the 1980s of standing on the pier in Norfolk, Virginia with other family members to welcome the ships’ crews home from six- to nine-month deployments. I remember the special area set aside for the families of the sailors who were meeting their newborns: leaders made sure they were the first ones off the ship, too!

How about servicemembers’ dogs seeing their owners for the first time? Fellow GeekDad Dave Banks told us yesterday that dog/owner reunion videos always cheer him up.

This one is especially dear to my heart. One of our Air Force colleagues from our time in Florida, Matt Nece, who served in the same squadron as my husband at the time of this video, captured his son being very analytical on why his dad came home sooner than they were expecting. After about a minute of processing, he realized, “Yep, that’s my Dad!” and welcomed him home.

Can’t get enough surprise homecomings? Check out the Welcome Home Blog and Homecoming Heroes, where videos of military homecomings of all kinds are shared daily. There are some really sweet trick or treat surprises from last week, in fact.

So, if nothing else today, take a moment and think about our country’s veterans. Viewing these videos is a good start. Veterans are usually pretty humble… while the public “Thank you for your service” is always great to hear, I think more than anything, veterans just want to make sure the rest of the country understands what they do. They give up many of their own rights to protect the rights of everyone else in our country. They are the ones who are giving us the freedom to vote… and conduct protests when our chosen candidate doesn’t win.