A soldier came home today to Chatham. Not to cheers and joyous hugs but to tears and broken hearts. This soldier came home not riding a grand parade of motorcycles or on a jeep but in the back of a hearse. This soldier came home to the most amazing, saddest, most heart wrenchingly beautiful welcome I think I have ever experienced.
People gathered lining Route 4 as far as the eye could see. Both directions. Both sides of the road. Boy Scouts in uniform. Flags waving from strollers to senior citizens. As the motorcade got closer to where we were standing and the police lined the intersections and stopped traffic the crowd moved to the very edge of the road. The Chatham cherry picker fire engine raised its bucket displaying a flag and turning on its lights. As the first glimpse of the motorcade itself people raised their flags and put their hands over their hearts. The Illinois Patriot Guard roared through. Probably fifty of the most diverse group of riders you'll see united for this cause. Emergency vehicles from Chatham, Illinois State Police, Sangamon County Sheriff, and Rochester preceded the hearse. People raised their flags and put their hands on their hearts. As the soldier's ride came into view, silence covered the land. Conversations stopped. Children sensed the change in atmosphere and stopped talking. Even the birds were silent. Never have I heard the town square so quiet. Even the car motors seemed muted. My arms were covered in goose bumps and tears ran down my cheeks.
The rest of the procession was a line of distraught family and friends. People my age. An older woman, perhaps Grandma? crying while raising her hand and thanking the crowd. Stoic soldiers, young boys who barely looked old enough to shave, dressed to the nines in their uniforms. A large Harley riding man with tears on his cheeks streaming into his beard.
When it was over and the roads were open everyone paused for a second, the spell was broken and just like that we got to go back to our lives. Just like that we were fine. Just like that we were done.
But today a soldier came home to his family....in a box. Today a momma had to prepare to bury her baby.....so we could be free....how do you say thank you for that?