Larry’s Note: This is one of my favorite family stories, and I’m pretty sure I’ve written about it before, but I can’t recall if I have since I’ve been in Thomaston. If I have, my apologies for writing it again. If I haven’t, I hope you enjoy it.
At home on my dresser sits a black and white reprint of an old photo. In it, my father, a sergeant in the Army at the time, is sitting in front of his typewriter in the Philippines during World War II, holding an edition of the Free Philippines Times. On the desk next to the typewriter is a framed photo of my mother holding my oldest brother Jimmy, their first-born son. Jimmy was born in 1944 while our father was overseas.
Due to his pre-war experience working at our grandfather’s newspaper in Cuthbert, Georgia, our dad was put to work helping to get out the first newspapers after the Allies retook the Philippines. He also helped print psychological leaflets that were dropped over Japan and Japanese-held island, urging the enemy to throw down their guns and surrender.
At home, my mother and Jimmy were living with her mother and father in Kirkwood, a suburb of Atlanta. Also living there were our mother’s two younger sisters, Jane and Dot. Jane is the one who told me this story about our dad’s homecoming.
After the war ended in 1945, the soldiers started coming home. But because of the excitement of so many soldiers arriving back in the states, and the mobs of families and friends greeting them at the docks and train stations, the Army figured out it might be better not to release the date that the soldiers would get home, to keep the mob situations down.
But our grandfather, who worked in Atlanta, knew someone in the War Department that let him know when the troop train our dad would be on would be arriving at the train station in Atlanta. It was coming in about 9 p.m. on a Saturday night. That night, our grandparents, our mom and Jimmy, and Jane and Dot all went to the train station to meet the train. Despite letting our grandfather know, the person who told him had apparently been able to keep his mouth shut and there was no one else waiting on the platform for the train to arrive.
Aunt Jane said they eventually heard the whistle blowing and watched as the headlight on the engine grew larger and larger until the train started pulling into the station. They were standing about midway down the platform, and watched as passenger car after passenger car went by them with the faces of soldiers plastered against the windows. They were hoping to see our dad’s face, but never did.
Finally, just as the train was coming to a stop, they looked down toward the engine and saw a figure jump off the train and come running toward them. It was our dad. He had been looking out one of the windows and saw them standing on the platform and couldn’t wait to get to them. I can only imagine what that reunion was like, especially when he got to hold his son for the first time. If you’ve ever seen any of the videos on Youtube or Facebook of the soldiers surprising their loved ones when they get home, I can imagine it was something like that.
Thankfully, I’ve never had to wait for friends or family members to arrive home after serving our country overseas. That may soon change, as my oldest grandson has joined the Air Force, and my second oldest will join the Army after he graduates in May. But my wish for all the veterans serving overseas, especially those in Afghanistan and Iraq, is that they experience just as memorable a homecoming as my family did, and that it will be a permanent homecoming, not a temporary one.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.