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An Iraq War Veterans' Welcome Home to Remember (SLIDESHOW)Tim King Salem-News.com
Salem-News.com photojournalist Tim King has returned from Iraq, where he spent several weeks embedded with an Oregon Guard unit. Along the way he witnessed a hero's welcome at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport for soldiers and Marines returning home from Iraq.
(DALLAS, Tx.) - It isn't often that a legacy can change.
The sound of clapping hands is an unexpected greeting for soldiers and Marines returning home from the war in Iraq. Too many stories about mistreated Vietnam vets leave an expectation of something totally different.
In fact, it takes a moment for these troops returning home on the military R&R flights to even comprehend the idea of dozens and dozens of people gathered there to simply welcome them home, but that is what happens almost every day at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in Texas.
I had the rare and unusual honor of experiencing this 'hero's welcome' first-hand, as a reporter returning to the states from Iraq. I was able to see the disbelief on the faces of these warriors, and sense their shock and surprise.
It started with a few people clapping, then quickly became a growing round of applause that lasted for several minutes. We walked a level above the gathering of people who were visible through large windows, then wound our way down a floor and into a red, white and blue hug and handshake zone.
This Dallas/Ft. Worth welcoming committee has been standing at the International gate since 2004, according to Donna Cranston from the group, defendersoffreedom.us. Her group is often behind the welcome back events, along with volunteers like Diane Ratley, daughter of a WWII Veteran, whose son has served a tour in Iraq.
Vietnam Veteran Chuck Lechner says his primary reason for spending so many days at the airport, "is to keep the torch lit for these men and women who serve in Afghanistan and Iraq." Lechner says he will never let veterans feel abandoned or forgotten.
Another member of this welcoming crew that served in Vietnam is Randy Grizzle. "It is something we didn't get when we returned home from SE Asia," he said. Randy talked about the importance of the welcoming, and says it can signify a positive reception for often combat weary veterans. He believes it is extremely meaningful for everyone involved.
"They said 35 years ago that Vietnam would be 'the last war', weren't they wrong about that?" he asked.
I had just spent the last five weeks covering military operations in Iraq. It was a breeze next to any military combat tour, but still a significant amount of time to spend away from home in a combat zone.
The last war I had covered was Afghanistan about a year and a half earlier. That return trip was through the airport at Baltimore, and there was no welcome home celebration.
The Texans really have the right side of patriotism in mind with this ongoing effort to offer thanks and welcome home those who serve. It makes a big difference, for our military and for our society at large. I find it to be remarkable and fortunate that a war photographer like myself can personally attest to that.
Later, I was there when a plane arrived with soldiers and Marines from Afghanistan, and the welcoming was repeated.
If you are ever in the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, walk over to the International arrival side and look for people with flags and bright smiles. Join in if your timing is really good, and tell a servicemember thanks and welcome home, they will probably tell people about it for the rest of their life.
Here are photos from Tim King's MySpace page, myspace.com/timsalemnews, of the returning soldiers and the people of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area who take the time to welcome them home from the wars overseas.
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