Thursday, April 22, 2004
My brother’s home. Sgt. Nathan Lyons, along with 400 other Oregon National Guard soldiers, returned to Salem on April 8 after fighting in the Iraq war. He had been deployed for 14 months.
Nine charter buses escorted by more than 100 Vietnam vets on Harleys and state police troopers carried the troops to the state fairgrounds in the largest homecoming of the Oregon National Guard since World War II. All of the local guardsmen made it home.
Nath’s lucky he left the Persian Gulf when he did. If he had been delayed three more days, his tour of duty would have been extended another six months. He would have been one of the thousands of soldiers and Marines who had packed their gear, changed into their clean uniforms and boots only to find out that the Pentagon had ordered tour extensions for 20,000 service members. More than 40 percent of those troops are guardsmen and reserves.
For his homecoming, Nath wore his desert fatigues, a black beret and the cross-rifle logo of the Combat Infantry Badge, given to soldiers who have come under enemy fire.
I wasn’t there to welcome him, but my parents, Nath’s wife Lindsey, my sister Karen and her family held welcome home signs and waited.
As the convoy traveled south down Interstate 5 from Fort Lewis, Wash. to the Oregon State Fairgrounds, my brother saw people standing on bridges and along the highway waving and carrying flags.
“People were cheering for us, and saluting us,” he told me. “It was good to see that people still support us.”
As they crossed the Oregon border, fire-engine lights flashed and sirens screamed. As the busses entered the fairgrounds, they passed under a huge American flag hoisted by local fire departments’ ladder trucks.
Nath said he saw the flag, but the first thing he noticed was all the family members and friends crowding the fairgrounds. “So many people,” he said. “It was overwhelming.”
People cheered and cried, and carried signs and balloons. New moms held up their babies to see their dads for the first time—32 babies were born while the battalion was deployed.
“Then I saw Lindsey,” he said. “Two seconds after I got off the bus she tackled me. Then I knew I was home.”