Tired from a day of travel and lost in thoughts of the wonderful vacation in San Francisco from which I was returning, I had a real awakening on Monday afternoon while on the mini-bus from the Jet Blue Terminal at JFK to the off-site parking facility where my family and I had parked our car before our trip.
My family were the only passengers on the mini bus until a family of four–a young couple with two children under eight or so–boarded when the bus made an additional stop. I don’t remember how the conversation got started…maybe it was the Mets shirt my husband was wearing. Anyway, they were informed that we had just returned from San Francisco where we had seen the Mets play three game and, I told them, it had been MUCH cooler. I remarked how hot and humid it was in New York, but how it was supposed to be even hotter for the Home Run Derby in Phoenix that night and the All-Star Game the following evening.
We then learned that the family had just returned from an enjoyable vacation in Barbados–during the husband/father’s two-week leave from Afghanistan.
As we all exited the bus, I thought back on my part of the conversation and felt embarrassed that I had been complaining at all about the heat of Phoenix, much less New York. As we all stood beside the mini-bus waiting to collect our bags, I asked the gentleman, “Is it really hot in Afghanistan?” He told me that he had seen temperatures of 130 degrees, but that what made it even worse was that the equipment he has to wear traps body heat and adds to the temperature (not to mention the weight.)
Ashamed of having previously alluded to any discomfort because of the change in climate, I told the young gentleman, “You all are the TRUE All-Stars and real heroes. Thank you for all you are doing.”
Our family wished theirs a safe trip home, and we added that we hoped that the young soldier might be coming home permanently from Afghanistan very soon.
It was a sobering moment. The stressors awaiting each of the members of my family upon our return from a leisurely vacation now seemed so trivial, so inconsequential. Any sadness or regret we had about returning to our regular routines was quickly displaced by the realization of the inevitable sadness and anxiety that that young wife and her children would be experiencing all too soon as they said goodbye–again–to this soldier.
I’ve always been glad that the Mets honor a veteran at every home game as part of the “Welcome Back, Veterans” program. And I always applaud the day’s soldier as he or she is recognized in the third inning of the game. But since this chance encounter, I have applauded more loudly and with even more appreciation and gratitude for each soldier’s sacrifices.
Coincidentally, my “warmer welcomes” this past weekend coincided with the appearance at Citi Field of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Leroy Petry. On Tuesday, Petry became the second living active-duty service member to receive a Medal of Honor for actions in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Petry earned the prestigious award and a lunch date with President Obama for his courageous actions in Afghanistan on May 26, 2008.
The details of Petry’s heroism have been detailed everywhere, including this quote from a story on MLB.com:
Though shot in both legs during a mission, Petry managed to make his way to an enemy hand grenade and throw it away from himself and two fellow Rangers. Though he managed to save his peers, Petry had to have his right hand amputated afterward and now uses a prosthetic.