But I couldn't help wondering what they were facing next (apart from the possibility of another dangerous, uncomfortable tour of duty in countryside looking rather like northern New Mexico in a snow storm): probably wanting nothing more than a beer and some complete silence, and having to cope with family and friends who can't possibly know what they've been through. When I was waiting at Albuquerque for Alice to come in on another flight, there was a soldier who'd been greeted by his pregnant wife and their tiny girl - and whilst the wife went off to the bathroom, the soldier took his daughter over to the window that overlooks the Kirtland AFB and was instructing her about the identities of the planes coming in to land - "There's as Osprey"... which might be a good way to keep someone of about ten months entertained, but also looked as though he couldn't quite relate to anything other than that life. And I kept thinking not just of these women and men, but of all their predecessors - all those who have come back physically and mentally damaged from other wars, and who, after the initial applause - where it's existed - and the bunting and hugs, have had to get on with lives that have been changed for ever. I was stuck with one of the most haunting of protest songs running through my head - Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda," about Australian soldiers returning after Gallipoli (where my great auntie Jess was, incidentally, a nurse). If you don't know it, listen.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I was between planes in Dallas Fort Worth - coming in from Philadelphia, going out to Albuquerque - when the whole of Terminal D started applauding a battalion of troops coming home. This was both very moving, and very disconcerting. It's certainly not anything I've encountered before - rounds of applause on airplanes, yes, but this was a whole airport erupting into patriotic fervor. And I didn't know where they were arriving from, and didn't know if any of them might have been better employed checking out baggage-less men with Arab names who have lumpy underwear and buy one-way tickets in cash, rather than doing whatever they were doing.