On March 17, 1991, an aircraft stopped for fuel at Westover AFB in Springfield, Mass. Aboard were 72 Marines on their way home after participating in Operation Desert Storm.
A bus transported us to a hangar and upon leaving, the driver said, “you are going to be surprised.” I did not quite understand, but I soon found out.
In the hangar, more than 1,000 people were lined up from the door to a waiting area. Walking down this welcome home gantlet, I shook hundreds of hands and was kissed and hugged by numerous people.
I remember a grandmother with tears in her eyes giving me a hug saying “so glad to see you home safe.” A distinguished gentleman wearing an 8th Air Force baseball cap saying “welcome home son.” There was the young African-American family whose 5-year-son saluted me while his 3-year-old sister was hoisted up by her father to kiss my cheek. There was the St. Patrick’s Day queen and court dressed in green formal dresses and tiaras, giving me hugs and kisses.
It was a day when I was never more proud to be an American. Today, where many say we are a divided nation, I say no. We are still a great nation of unselfish people whose best days are yet to come.
On this St. Patrick’s Day, I will again remember that on a cold afternoon in 1991, some Americans I never met gave up their Sunday afternoon to welcome me home.
Lt. Col. Ron Madrid, USMC (retired), State College