Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Welcome Home Parade!

OK, I'm gonna make this real quick... apologies in advance, but I've been extremely exhausted lately - too much "stuff" going on and not enough sleep, haha!

As I mentioned earlier, this past Saturday was a "Welcome Home!" parade for the members of our 48th BCT here in Walton County, Georgia. I contacted the parade organizers, and asked them if I could set up a table for Operation: Thanks for Freedom! so I could collect cards for the troops that day. They very graciously agreed, and also, much to my astonishment, invited my husband and myself to the private dinner reception they were having that evening for the soldiers and their families. Even though we do not have anyone currently serving in the military in our family, they invited us to take part nonetheless. I was very, very honored and humbled to say the least! But more about that later, haha.

It was a very, very special day for me and hubby. Not only was it a parade to welcome home our local Soldiers who just got back from Iraq about six weeks ago, it was also going to give us an opportunity to meet, for the first time, Chuck - the combat medic we adopted during that deployment. Some of you know the story -- Back in August of 2005, Sgt. Michael Stokely of Loganville, GA, where I live, was killed in action. Through a series of really cool coincidences, our family became friends with Mike's father. He, in turn, gave us Chuck's name and address, explaining that he and Mike had grown up together and were more like brothers than just friends... and could use the extra TLC & support from home. The rest is history... every week for the remaining months of his deployment (about 4 months, if I remember right.. better late than never!) he got letters from us. He and his platoon were some of the recipients of the "Hearts for Heroes" Valentine's Card drive. And of course, we prayed for him and his buddies like nothin' else. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for combat medics and Chaplains - i think those are two of the toughest jobs on the planet. (Combat medics have to try to hold together broken bodies and save lives... chaplains have to try to hold together broken hearts and save souls) So, right away, he was a very special "addition" to our family... and at Saturday's parade, at long last, we would finally get to meet him and his wife (who I'd emailed with a bit back & forth during his deployment) !!! The picture above is of me meeting him for the first time. :) would you believe I didn't cry too much??? haha! He warned me the day before, "No crying allowed!" hahaha... and I'd told him, "Yeah... right... good luck!" I actually did most of my crying during the actual parade, beginning when the "memorial" cars drove past bearing the names of those from our town who did not make it back... followed by Michael Stokely's father, carrying a large picture of him, followed by our Soldiers, riding on a steam engine (which was cool, but very loud, haha!). So I had most of the crying stuff out of the way kind of, and there was such a lot of activity going on after the parade when we met him, I didn't have much time to stop & think about it much then. :) I also got to meet his buddy Alden (who is also one of my "MySpace" friends, haha... I'd followed his myspace page along with Chuck's and would try to leave comments of support for him, as well, even though I never actually wrote to Alden. I still count him as one of "mine" though, haha!)

Anyway, all in all, the parade, though brief, was AWESOME. You can see pictures of the event HERE. There's several great pics in there I just love... and for you political folks out there who care about stuff like that (I don't, I'm quite possibly the LEAST political person on the planet...*yawn*) there is also a photo of me and hubby and one of our kids with Senator Johnny Isaakson.

The reception that night was awesome. We got to enjoy steak & shrimp and other assorted goodies such as calamari (yes, I was brave & had a couple), steamed veggies, a bunch of other great stuff I'm forgetting, haha, and a fabulous cake (there's a pic of the cake in the photo album linked above). There were all sorts of dignitaries there in addition to the soldiers and their families... the Mayor of Loganville and his wife (who, we discovered, were very nice people - even though we technically live in Walnut Grove and therefore are not potential voters, hehe!), a state senator, a couple judges, several county commissioners, some city councilmen, etc. The reception was held at the American Legion in Loganville, and entertainment was provided via a grand piano imported from Atlanta for the occaision, along with a wonderful lady singer whose name escapes me at the moment... but it was truly incredible. The REAL stars of the evening, however, were, of course, the Soldiers and their families who just returned from Iraq... and the families of the ones who didn't. :( The REAL stars of the evening were, of course, also the Veterans of the American Legion.. the man who fought & survived at Omaha Beach... the Vietnam Veteran who returned from 'Nam with one arm and no legs, who now is a full-time Veteran's Advocate... I could go on & on. But, I'll spare you, haha! I'm really tired and rambling, so I'll end here for now.

Enjoy the pictures...we surely enjoyed our day that day.


PS - oh yeah, almst forgot - collected another 45 cards for Operation: Thanks for Freedom on Saturday, too, while at the parade... will have a final tally by Saturday, which is Mailing Day. Many thanks to those kind souls who have contributed to postage... you are awesome and i love you all dearly!


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