When Sgt. _____ came home

Published 12:09 am Saturday, May 24, 2014

By Julia Janasky-Gibbs

A little over a year ago, I was traveling from Germany (home) to Alabama (Mimi’s house) with my children to visit my family. After a 5:30 wake-up call, hours standing in line holding my 2-year-old on my right hip while holding the hand of my 4-year-old, an 11-hour, fun-filled trip of pull-ups, spilled drinks, Disney movies, color crayons, lost sippy cups, pull-up nightmares, plane-toilet drama and tears of “joy,” we finally landed in Atlanta, Ga. We all sighed a deep breath of relieve when we made our connection flight to Pensacola. Last leg of the trip!

We got on the plane and started to get settled. At this point, I have stopped making eye contact with any other humans in my vicinity besides the ones who came from my loins. People, we have been traveling for hours at this point and it is close to like 2 a.m. for those of us who are still on Germany time, and we look and smell like road kill. So, we get the DVD player out, the blankies, the toys, the kitchen sink … and try to love each other through one more flight. After the flight attendant explained the emergency exits and I daydream about us all sliding down the big yellow slide that comes out of the side of that plane, the pilot comes on the speakers with a special announcement.

“We are honored to be riding with Sgt. ____, on his final journey home to Pensacola from Afghanistan.”

Mattox immediately pipes up, “Afghanistan? That is where my daddy lived! He was there a lonngggg time!” I reassure her that yes, it is the same place, and we talk about the amazing memory of the day Jeremy came to us after his final journey home from Afghanistan. There is nothing like that moment. The moment you have dreamed about, prayed for, played out in your mind a million different times over an entire year of separation, that moment when you are at last together again. I remember well making signs to hold up for him to read. Mattox was about 3.5 years old and she drew a family portrait for Daddy. We looked like hotdogs with worms growing out o hour heads, but it was priceless because it showed us holding hands with Jeremy. We hadn’t held this hands in so long … just the drawing made me tear up. And we waited in this hot gym. We waited and waiting for him to co

“me marching in. “They” tell you to come at a certain time, but “they” are never sure what time that C17 will actually come rolling down the tarmac. But then it happens. People start to stir, excitement rolls through the air and people start to straighten their clothes and their hair. THEY are coming. Our boys are home!

He came in first, calling the soldiers to attention and standing with pride and exhaustion 10 feet in front of me. Jeremony was in front of me, standing at attention. The soldiers try so hard to keep their faces still and stoic, but they can heir their babies calling, “Daddyyyyy!,” and you see their resolve break. Some have tears coming down their cheeks. Some are smiling. Some are biting the insides of their cheeks. Some are staring at their newborn babies whom they have yet to hold. Then the colonel says they are released and the sea of people engulfs the heroes.

That memory is playing through my head while we fly across the sky to Pensacola that day. It was a short flight, only 45 minutes and then the landing gear was coming down. As we landed, the pilot made one more announcement. The plane came to a stop and he said, “Please allow us to let Sgt. ____ off the plane first. His family has waited for their soldier to come home. Please remain seated until he is safely off the plane.”

And then. No. One. Moved. No soldier stood up. No man in green came forward. No. One. Moved.

The kids were looking back and forth to see the guy who dressed like Daddy. But no one moved. I was sitting by the window during this flight and I noticed a commotion by the side of the plane. That’s when I saw him. The brown box with an Amreican flag draped over it. It was slowly but surely exiting the plane first. I saw a woman come from the shadows and drape her body across the casket. I saw her lie on that flag and embrace her soldier and my heart stopped. The soldiers stood around the casket at attention as she lay with her soldier. NO one asked her to hurry up or to move; no one ushered her to the side or spoke to her. The soldiers stood beside her, at attention, waiting and watching over her.

“Mommy, where’s the soldier? Where is he?” Mattox and Bubba snapped me back from the deep grief and pain striking my heart. I look at her, my six-year-old little girl, and pointed out the window while tears streamed down my face and pain held onto my heart. She looked and saw the brown box, the American flag, the back of a women broken over the casket, a woman dressed in black.

“Is that how Daddy came home? Did he come home in a box?”

No words. Just a broken moment t hat stood still between her little face of pure curiously and me.

“No. Daddy gave a year of his life. He worked hard and sacrificed much, but this soldier gave it all. He sacrificed everything for our freedom. SO now we can thank him, we can be quiet and think about how much he gave for us. For all of us.”

Slowly, I gathered our bags. I hugged my children tight, and I took one more glance out the window to a sister I will never meet. A woman who has slept alone and cried alone, who has fed her children meal after meal praying for her soldier to come home soon; who has lost herself to that song on the radio that reminds her of him, who has sat at the red light praying for his safety even when it turns green; who has dreamt of him coming home, and lived for the calendar to pass by. A woman who knows my life as a military wife, who has waiting anxiously by the phone for the calls to hear his voice, and the dreaded call she hoped to never receive. I will not forget her, dressed in black, lying on her soldier, crying onto the American flag, and I hope my daughter will not, either. She is a part of us; she is apart of this life that we live. The Army of One. We, the wives, husbands and children that make up this military life, we are one. We are the families of soldiers. We are the strong, the proud and the brave … serving from home until our soldiers come home.

Julia Janasky-Gibbs is a native of Samson and currently resides in Ft. Rucker. Her thoughts, written last year, were shared at the request of a reader.