The more I think about Tuesday's homecoming for the 1140th Engineer Battalion of the National Guard, the more important it becomes. Just think about it. These brave soldiers are our friends, neighbors, family, co-workers. They left our community 14 months ago and traveled to the other side of the world in a conflict not of their making. And they did so willingly. That is truly the definition of sacrifice. And of service.
Sikeston and the surrounding communities have a unique and hopefully once-in-a-lifetime chance Tuesday to show these brave men just how proud we are of their dedication, service and commitment. If we don't give them a homecoming like none other, then shame on us.
I'll be real honest. My involvement in the unit's departure and their activities in Iraq were perhaps like yours - I said my prayers and I certainly wished them a safe return. But beyond that, it had little impact on my daily life. But in recent weeks, I've had the honor of assisting with Tuesday's homecoming. Through that involvement I have come to more clearly understand the sacrifice they have made. And I have seen and heard and felt the longing by family members for their safe return.
Most of us cannot put ourselves in their position. Most of us have not totally uprooted our lives in service to this country. These are men who are active members of their communities, their churches and of course, their families. To answer the call to service and then to return with pride is something I have come to admire more than I can describe.
So here's the bottom line. It's important that come Tuesday at 7 a.m., a large crowd of Sikeston area residents show their support as the Guard unit slowly pulls into town. The unit will make their way from Interstate 55 down Malone Avenue to Pine Street. They will then turn on Pine and travel in front of the high school. They will then turn down Kathleen and stop at the Armory where they will unload their gear, reunite with family and begin their day.
Parking will be a problem at the Armory because of the large number of family members who will be there. Patience will be important. But along Malone Avenue there is ample parking near Pine Street and ample parking near the former Orscheln building. Parking will not be permitted on the shoulders of Malone for safety reasons but you'll find a place to park, applaud, wave a flag and even say a thankful prayer. And by golly, the unit deserves it. And take your kids. This is an historic event. They'll remember it for a lifetime.
Tuesday afternoon at the Sikeston High School Field House will be the formal welcome home ceremony. It promises to be a moving experience for the unit, their families and members of the community. It's equally important the Field House is overflowing. That's our public way of expressing our sincere appreciation. Anything less is simply not acceptable.
It will certainly be good to have these Guardsmen back in our communities. We have all - in our own way - looked forward to this day for over a year. That day arrives Tuesday. Let's make the most of it.