Sunday, September 14, 2008

Welcome home PVT Jordan Thibeault

Friday morning began at a cool 50° with a cloudless sky. On the day after Alaska's favorite mom said farewell to her son, a local mother welcomed hers home.

I pulled out a rag and performed a quick touch-up on my bike then mounted a Utah state and U.S. flag on the back. I finished it off with a Patriot Guard banner across the windshield. I then rode off to join some great American patriots.

We rode as a group to the Salt Lake Air Base of the Utah Air National Guard which is on the back side of the Salt Lake airport. We parked our bikes on the flight line, dispersed flags, and began our usual long and somber wait. After a while a hearse pulled up and parked to our left. Several minutes later a limo parked next to the hearse; nobody got out of the limo. We waited some more. Finally a plane landed on the runway directly in front of us. I recognized it immediately from pictures in a feature news article I read a while back. Big grey letters spelled out Kalitta Charters above grey and blood red stripes. At the end of the runway it taxied behind a long line of airport emergency and service vehicles with lights flashing back to our location. The limo emptied its contents and father, mother, and sister all stared at the plane whose sole purpose was to bring their soldier home.

We filed past them and formed two flag lines creating a corridor of red, white and blue above black leather. The wind was just strong enough to keep the flags extended and the sun, from over my right shoulder, cast lifeless shadows on the concrete in front of me. A large cargo door on the side of the plane hinged up and let out two escorts in Army dress greens. Soon a flag draped coffin appeared and was lowered to waist high. Someone yelled, "Present Arms" and I rendered a sharp military salute. With their arms wrapped firmly around each other, PVT Thibeault's family walked through the corridor toward his casket. Mother broke free from between her husband and daughter and gave Jordan's casket a long embrace. The cloudless day suddenly appeared foggy. I held my salute.

The family took their time. Leather is stiff and heavy and my jacket soon felt like it weighed a ton; I could not let my arm drop. The Utah National Guard Honor Guard looked sharp in their dress blues while they marched silently between us toward the airplane. They had been waiting for the family to finish and became the pallbearers for the 50 yard walk to the hearse. My arm ached; I had to endure. When PVT Thibeault was securely loaded and his family back in the limo, the order was given, "Order Arms." We broke ranks returned the flags and mounted our bikes.

The 20 mile escort down most of the length of the Salt Lake Valley was impressive. On a circular freeway I caught a glimpse of our flag adorned missing man formation in front of the hearse and limo. The air shook from the low rumble of thirty twin-V engines. Traffic stopped to let the procession pass. A very senior farmer stood at the edge of his field and watched with his hat off. The town of South Jordan was doing all it could to honor its fallen son who bore the town's name with such distinction. The police department had intersections blocked and the local scout troops had posted flags along our path. We were taking Jordan home for the last time.

We paused for a while in front of the Thibeault home. Neighbors and friends lined both sides of the street. Their yard was filled with flags. When the procession began to move again the low rumble became a thunderous roar in a bikers salute.

We rolled the rest of the way to the funeral home with flags marking our path. When we arrived we parked, dismounted, and stood one more time while the Honor Guard carried PVT Jordan Thibeault inside.

Jordan Thibeault died so others might live free! May God repay this debt that we as a nation could never possible repay!

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