Joan, a retired secretary in California, remembers her youngest son’s return from Iraq in 2009 like it was yesterday.
“A few days before he came home, my husband and I heard that their group would be arriving in Riverside. So we were so excited and got the directions to go out there—but then we got lost! By the time we got there, they had already arrived, so we weren’t able to welcome them the moment they got off the buses. But in the end it didn’t matter—we were just so happy were to see him. I can’t even describe how we felt.”
Joan has experienced many family members going through war: her uncle and brother served in World War II, and her husband served in the Korean War. She says it’s not easy when you know they are in harm’s way.
“It eats at you, you’re scared constantly, but all you can do is pray and hope that they come home. My son was in the armored division—it was his job to drive the truck that detected hidden improvised explosive devices. He said that every time they reached a destination safely, they all breathed a sigh of relief. I think I felt the same way when he finally came home."
For the year that her son served in Iraq, she stayed in constant contact with him.
“He would send home emails and pictures pretty often. Then I would send them around to my friends to let them know he was all right. They appreciated it because it was an eye-opener for my friends seeing what life was like there, and my son appreciated it because he really felt like a lot of people were keeping him in their thoughts and prayers. And then when I heard he was coming home, I sent that email to everyone I knew to let them know he was safe and to thank them for support.”
Although her son has been back at home for a couple of years and has settled into a career in the telecom industry, Joan never forgets what it’s like to have a loved one serving overseas.
“Every single servicemember and their families have my heart, because I know how it feels. We can’t forget that these people volunteered to do something truly extraordinary for us.”
The last American combat troops in Iraq will be home for the holidays. Take a moment to say thank you to our returning servicemembers and reflect on what the end of the war means to you.