Today was the day we planned for Ken's Welcome Home party back in 2004. We had planned a gala celebration at the airport. My older sister, the retired LTC, had teased Ken that she & I would wear sparkly tube tops as part of our ensemble to the airport. (full disclosure, I should never wear a tube top, sparkly or otherwise anywhere).
Ken threatened to change his flight plans and not let us know which airport where he would arrive to avoid any kind of extra attention. He knew should have known better. He knew his mother and his favorite aunts would find a way to hunt him down, he knew he was no match for our feminine wiles. There would be flags and banners and probably music. My family is far and above most when it comes to airport welcomes and this would be the mother of all welcomes. These lively discussions were part of the decompression that was necessary for all of us to put this year in Iraq behind us.
Ken & I talked about him flying home 1st Class. He said he earned it and I couldn't agree with him more. That decision would wait, we still had 6 more weeks until the unit returned to Germany.
As you know by now, it turned out to be a different kind of welcome home and much sooner than we expected.
Instead of Ken's famous breathtaking hug, I was given a flag covered casket and his dog tags. I wear the dog tags near my heart; that's where Ken is now and forever.
The Army classified Ken as "non-viewable" due to his mortal injuries. It was just as well, I didn't want to see his dead body anyway. I didn't want that to be the lasting memory of him. I told the funeral director, "If you can't make him look like Ken, then I don't want to see him anyway". He told me that task was much more difficult with younger people, but that discussion took place before Ken 's body arrived home, so I don't know how bad it really was. I didn't question the judgment of the Army and based on reading the autopsy several months ago, I know it was the right decision for me.
I do wish that I had gotten a lock of his hair from the funeral home, although from what I could tell in his most recent photos from Iraq, his haircut was high and tight. The best I could have gotten was crumbs of hair, not a lock, but I can still wish for that.
May 22. Yes, this was the day that Ken would have been welcomed home by his family and friends and those people who dutifully sent CARE packages to Ken and his guys. They were my strength and my spirit when Ken was gone those 384 days. I could not have made it through the year without them. In a way, he became everyone's son.
I feel like I am in a tsunami, going down for the third time. When will it stop hurting so much? There's nothing to like about this day or this month.....
p.s. Happy Birthday to Jonathan , Evan and Casey- ALL Gold Star sons