Editor's Note: The best party of the holidays

Richard Wiens, The Triplicate

A Sunday afternoon telephone call brought an unexpected holiday bonus.

After learning that three local members of the California National Guard were coming home from Afghanistan on the late flight to Crescent City, Laura and I headed for an airport terminal already jammed with more than 50 greeters.

The plane had landed but the passengers were still aboard. Kids held signs up to the glass wall reading "Welcome home soldiers" and "Welcome home Daddy!"

Non-military passengers were the first to disembark, heightening the

anticipation. "Here they come," someone said, and three happy soliders,

clad in fatigues and no doubt fatigued, entered the room to spirited

applause.

They were home and in the arms of their loved ones in time for the holidays.

As the assistant city editor supervising military coverage for the

Colorado Springs Gazette, I was involved with numerous homecomings at

Fort Carson from 2004 to 2007. Soldiers returned from Iraq by the

hundreds, walking into a base gymnasium while patriotic music blared and

crowds of well-wishers went wild.

After commanders delivered blessedly short speeches, the people in

the bleachers at last could rush into the embrace of home-safe fathers

and mothers, husbands and wives.

When those events occurred just before Christmas and Hanukkah, they

were all the more poignant and always destined for the front page.

All too frequently, Gazette writers and photographers were dispatched

to cover very different homecomings - memorial services for the fallen -

often multiple casualties. The duty usually fell to military reporter

Tom Roeder, who has written at least a couple of dozen such accounts.

Comrades' eulogies. Symbolic placement - in a practice dating back at

least as far as the Civil War - of the soldiers' boots, rifles and

helmets. Twenty-one-gun salutes.

Roeder always managed to forage through the somber sameness to find

something unique to write about each soldier, each service. He knew some

of the fallen personally from covering stories at the base and from

being embedded with Fort Carson units in Iraq. It was an almost-sacred

undertaking. Frankly, sometimes I worried about the effect on his own

psyche.

The very real danger of service in Iraq or Afghanistan, of course, is

what makes the safe return of our soldiers such big events. You could

feel it in the airport Sunday night. Not just happiness, but palpable

relief.

Del Norte will know no better secular celebration of the season.

14014012
The Del Norte Triplicate
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