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thedrifter
06-25-08, 07:31 AM
Posted on Wed, Jun. 25, 2008
A son in the Marines. A nation at war.
And a brief respite.


Today, my son Daniel returns to his home in California.

His visit was too short; he's leaving too soon. A few days of shared meals, stories, family and laughter were not enough.

His first morning home, I watched him as we walked on the beach with his grandparents. My Dad squeezed my hand as we looked at the boy who grew past our dreams into this young man.

Just last Thursday, I perched nervously on the edge of a seat in Tampa International Airport, clutching a flag and scanning every group of travelers coming from the Southwest terminal.

As people passed, some did a double-take of the flag in my hand, looking questioningly at me. One woman nodded and smiled, understanding written on her face. A few minutes later she sat next to me, asking, "Is it your son or your husband?"

I smiled and briefly told her about Daniel, who recently returned from a seven-month deployment with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. It would be the first time I'd seen him in eight months.

I sat up straighter in my seat as I spotted another group coming toward me. I hopped up and almost right away picked out Daniel's blue eyes and his wife Ashley's smiling face.

After bone-crushing hugs, I handed Ashley the flag and stood back to take some pictures. Daniel was not amused. He's been getting ribbing from his buddies who call him "Hollywood" because of the blog I write for the Bradenton Herald, sharing our experiences as a family with a loved one in the military.

Since my visit to the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, Calif., before Daniel's deployment, I've been schooled in subjects I didn't know existed.

I've been blessed to spend a morning with Daniel's Medium Helicopter Squadron 166; to walk the flight line on a FOD walk (picking up foreign objects that can get sucked into an engine); to meet so many military families and make so many friends. I've packed countless care packages, sang with the Marine Moms, marched in parades and cried in joy and in sadness. I now look at politics with more interest and read differing views on the war. I try to listen instead of just hear.

I must say, I am sometimes overwhelmed.

Monday was our last full day together, and Daniel wanted to take us to Busch Gardens. The park has a program that gives free tickets to active military and their families.

As we went through the turnstiles, my screen flashed and wouldn't let me through, and an attendant had to come see what was going on. "Please present military ID," flashed the message. As Daniel held out his ID to the elderly gentleman, the man pulled up his sleeve and smiled at Daniel. We all looked at the tattoo, faded by time: "USMC" was written in once-bold type.

"Vietnam," the old gentleman said in a gravelly voice.

As I came through the turnstile, Daniel and I both reached out to shake his hand.

"Thank you," I said. His back straightened up a bit and he lifted his chin. I could see, deep in this man's eyes, the physical strength he once had was still present in his spirit. He was still doing his job, and doing it with pride.

Tuesday night, Daniel flew home to his job as a Marine and a dedicated husband. There's no glamor in his days. He works hard, long hours and is usually dirty and tired when his day finally ends.

To me, though, there is nothing more heroic than our young people doing an honest day's work and loving the people close to them.

One day, someone may thank them.

Tiffany Tompkins-Condie is a photojournalist for the Bradenton Herald. Visit her blog, "Manatee's Military Moms," at Bradenton.com.

Visit Tiffany's blog at Bradenton.com/707 A son in the Marines. A nation at war.

And a brief respite.

Ellie