It wasn't a large National Guard unit, but then it wasn't a large town. The Unit's mobilization and deployment to Iraq had left holes in the police force, the fire department, and many of the businesses. It had also left a hole in the heart of the community. The three men who came home early, disabled by their wounds, were a reminder to everyone of the danger that hole represented. The black-bordered pictures of a young woman in her Class A uniform were an even stronger reminder.
But now they were home. The high school football stadium had been pressed into service, with most of the town in the bleachers, and families waiting behind a barrier of yellow ribbon on the sideline. The General commanding the division the Unit was part of had come to welcome them home, and had brought a small but enthusiastic military band. The band played and the crowd cheered and waved flags as the Unit, marching in formation, entered the stadium and marched onto the field. The Unit's Commanding Officer halted his command in front of the General's reviewing stand, and with a, "Left - Face!" turned his men and women towards the stand. As the music finished he placed them at Parade Rest, and awaited the speeches that would mark their official return home.
One of the family members on the sidelines was a young woman. She had a diaper bag over her shoulder, an infant in her arms, and a boy of three or four standing in front of her. When the music stopped the baby's crying could be heard, and she attempted to quiet the child.
The little boy had been very good the entire day, through all the noise and excitement. Now he made his move. While his mother was busy he slipped under the barrier, and clutching his little flag ran fifty feet out to where the Unit stood. He ran through the first rank of soldiers and wrapped himself around the leg of one of the men in the second rank.
There seemed to be a hush as everyone waited to see what would happen. A moment passed, then the Unit's Commander came to attention. He executed an about face, and eyed the situation. Then in a clear voice he called out:
"Corporal Jenkins! Atten-shun!"
The soldier snapped to attention, the little boy still clinging to his leg.
Jenkins crisply bent and picked up the boy, holding him to his chest. Little arms wrapped around his neck.
"Parade - Rest!" Jenkins joined his comrades at parade rest, with tears streaming down his cheeks.
The Commanding Officer executed another about face, and assumed parade rest himself.
The cheering and crying echoed in the bleachers for many minutes, and in the hearts of those in the bleachers for many days.
© Copyright 2016 Mike Brennan. All rights reserved.