The soldiers

Father David Epps's picture

My flight to Illinois had been canceled due to inclement weather and I had been told that it would take about an hour before I could retrieve my luggage.

So, deciding to have some lunch, I was standing in line at the Atlanta Bread Company at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Standing behind me was a soldier in desert camouflage accompanied by his wife. We struck up a brief conversation and I discovered that he was bound for Iraq — again.

I invited them to go ahead of me in line but he said, “We have six hours together here before I leave and it really doesn’t matter where we are — as long as we are together.”

She was going to be watching him fly away to war for the second time. He had a look about him, a confident, determined look, that said, “I know what hell is — been there and back. It doesn’t frighten me to go again.” I left them to their conversation, not wanting to intrude on the time they had left.

As I sipped my soup and tea, I heard applause begin to break out. Suddenly, there was thunderous clapping as hundreds of people began to stand to their feet. I stood and looked to see what the commotion was about.

The applause and vocal cheers, that became ever louder, were for dozens of soldiers in full gear who were making their collective way to the area where they would be processed and shipped out to Iraq. The applause didn’t die away until the last soldier was out of sight. Finally it was quiet again.

At a table near me, a lieutenant colonel ate a sandwich. An elderly couple began to chat with him and, as I listened in, he explained that he, too, was headed to the war in Iraq — again.

The couple expressed their appreciation to him for his service and asked how morale was “over there.”

“Quite good,” he replied. “As long as the people at home support us, morale stays high. These young men and women believe they are making a difference.”

As the couple prepared to depart, the officer said, “It takes two to dance. Thank you for dancing with us.”

After they left, I went over, shook his hand, and expressed my appreciation for him and the troops. I was wearing my clerical collar and he asked where I served. After I told him, he said that he had attended an Episcopal church when he was stationed in Kansas.

I shared that I had served in the Marines “a long time ago” and knew it was important that we support the soldiers.

“Pray for us,” he asked.

“I will,” I promised.

A half-hour later, another thunderous round of clapping broke out accompanied by cheers and whistles. It was another group of 40 to 60 soldiers heading to the war.

I wondered how many of them had been there before. I wondered what these young eyes had already seen. I wondered which ones of this group, and the previous group, and all the groups of soldiers that pass through airports day after day, would never see their homes again.

My bags finally arrived and I headed out toward the parking area. My route took me directly past the young men and women standing in line waiting to leave American soil.

“My gosh,” I thought, “they are so young!” But then Joe was young, too. And Jimmy. And others. High school friends of mine, they were all full of life and potential as they served in a war long ago. They left their all in Southeast Asia. Some of these would do the same in the sands of Iraq or in the rugged territory of Afghanistan.

I wanted to stop and say something, as I did with the soldier in the line and with the lieutenant colonel. But the sound stuck in my throat which was becoming tight with emotion. Instead, I smiled wanly and gave a “thumbs up.” They smiled broadly and waved back with enthusiasm.

All I could do was pray silently: “Bring them home safely, dear Lord — all of them. Guard them and keep them. Comfort their spouses and parents and children. When the going gets difficult, let them remember the thunderous applause they received here before they left. May we applaud and cheer even louder when they all come home. Amen.”

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Dalton Russell's picture
Submitted by Dalton Russell on Wed, 02/13/2008 - 8:46pm.

We should all thank the soldiers that are willing to face the fear that hides in our hearts. Soldiers, Police, and Fire face those things that scare us and they do it every day. Thank you Father Epps for reminding us of those people that weren't home for for the holidays and won't be home to spend Valentine's Day with those that they love. Remember to say thank you to those service people in uniform and the veterans that have given what we have not. Also, remember to thank their loved ones for enduring their fear as well. They live with the possibility of losing thier loved ones every day.


The true horror of this world is not the criminal minds that pursue vile intent. It's the apathetic view by those who stand idly by and point fingers without the will and courage to act.

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