My friend Margaret and I made a pilgrimage to Mankato MN a few days ago. Yup, Mankato. Think Vikings’ summer training camp. Skol, Vikings! But that has nothing to do with this story.
Mankato is where freshman U.S. congressman Tim Walz has a Minnesota office. He was hosting walk-in visitors for a few hours. So Margaret and I decided to visit. See, we don’t have a representative in our district. No. We have John Kline, the football-carrying Bush Republican.
Anyway, we were most of the way to Mankato when traffic suddenly came to a standstill. We were back too far for a good look, but we could see emergency vehicles of every description turning across our lanes. Oh, lordy, I thought. Something awful has happened in St. Peter. Click to read more.
Fire trucks and EMT vehicles. Squad cars and highway patrol cars, all with sirens blaring and warning lights flashing. Motorcycles. Cars with crepe paper streamers. Wait! Crepe paper streamers? Oh, duh! It was just a small town summer celebration, complete with parade.
We got antsy, Margaret and I, watching time pass and stewing about getting to Mankato. We wondered out loud about the genius who planned a parade route across a U.S. Highway. Tapped feet, shook heads, sighed.
There were a couple of old buses tangled up in the parade. We decided it was probably high school athletes and cheerleaders. Or maybe a contingent from nearby Gustavus Adolphus College. Then Margaret said, “Wait! I know what this is! It’s the troops coming home from Iraq.” Oh. My. God. She was right. It was the day and the hour for it.
Poof! The irritating traffic delay no longer mattered. Goosebumps sprouted, hearts raced and tears tumbled. Yup, really. The troops were back! Women and men were being bussed from hell to St. Peter to be cheered and embraced by the hometown folks who’d been waiting and waiting for them.
Highway traffic began moving slowly forward as the parade disappeared from view. All through St. Peter, townspeople still stood outside their houses, chatting with each other, some of them clutching small American flags. Many trees sported yellow ribbons. The town park was festooned with a block-long line of flags in stanchions, flapping a bit in the light breeze. Margaret and I stayed teary all along the way.
It was a very tender thing, this small town’s welcome-home-celebration. I felt a little like an accidental voyeur, watching what must have been an intensely personal time for the townsfolk and the troops.
The troops. These are the ones who made it. The ones who survived George Bush’s war. Margaret and I didn’t actually see them. So I don’t know how many there were. I don’t know if any of them had wounds healing or bones mending. I don’t know how many have broken spirits. Their loved ones will find that out soon enough. I don’t know if any of St. Peter’s finest perished in Iraq, causing them to miss this homecoming.
How many more, how many more?
UPDATE: Well, here's a clue about how many more, via today's New York Times.
FORT LEWIS, Wash. — Twenty soldiers deployed to Iraq from this Army base were killed in May, a monthly high. That same month, the base announced a change in how it would honor its dead: instead of units holding services after each death, they would be held collectively once a month. (snip)
“As much as we would like to think otherwise, I am afraid that with the number of soldiers we now have in harm’s way, our losses will preclude us from continuing to do individual memorial ceremonies,” Brig. Gen. William Troy, who was the interim commander at Fort Lewis at the time, wrote in an e-mail message announcing the policy in May.