A Town United

The closer I got into town, the more yellow ribbons I saw wrapped around tree trunks and telephone poles. On the bridge over the viaduct, several dozen American flags flapped in the breeze. Along the highway, in front of businesses, small crowds of people stood. Waiting.
Just before noon, hundreds of children from one of the elementary schools marched from their classrooms to the roadside. It was very warm for January, a pleasant day to be outside. They spread blankets on the ground and sat down. Nearly every child wore red, white, or blue, and each small hand gripped a small flag. They waited.
Right on cue, I could see blue lights flashing further up the highway. Soon, the police cars neared and slowed, as they escorted a convoy of military vehicles and busses. When the camouflaged trucks pulled near, the children cheered, and began to sing “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” Hundreds of small flags began waving furiously. Several children held up posters with letters painted on the front, spelling “Our Hearts Are With You.” Children rushed to the vehicles as they stopped, pushing bags of candy and boxes of cookies into waiting hands.
The men and women in the vehicles were leaving for Fort Stewart. They’re in the National Guard, and the unit was just activated for the first time in about 60 years. After training for a few months, they will be sent to Iraq for more than a year. The small town hadn’t sent troops to war for a long time, and its people were determined to show their support.
Further down the highway, students from three other schools stood on the sidewalk, posters and flags ready. The high school band warmed up. Soon, you could see the blue lights, and the students started playing patriotic songs.
When the convoy drew closer, the crowd couldn’t wait any longer. The vehicles were on the opposite side of the road, so the children rushed into the street, stopping traffic on the four-lane highway. They pushed to be close to the front, cheering, waving flags, yelling for the soldiers. I remained on the sidewalk, watching and trying not to get in the way.
It was moving, looking down the street and seeing people stretched along the highway in both directions, so eager to show support. While the scene made me feel patriotic, I also felt sad. I support our military men and women 100%, but they’re headed to such a difficult place, to do such a difficult job, for a war that seems so confusing. I wish it were a situation where right and wrong, good and evil, were clearer. Instead it’s a place where every person could be an enemy in disguise, and where the people you want to help are afraid of you and your intentions. And it’s a place where soldiers are dying nearly every day.
But I hope while the soldiers are in Iraq facing challenges I can’t imagine, they can remember the sight of eager children, running across the highway to wave their flags and show they care.