A Homecoming to Remember

The USO's motto is, "Until every one comes home." On Friday night, at a home in San Mateo County, one family experienced this joy.

Here's a piece of personal information about me. In addition to editing the San Mateo Patch and Foster City Patch sites, I am a volunteer at San Francisco International Airport's USO center.

At the USO, we assist members of the military and their families as they travel through the airport.

On Friday night, I witnessed a truly touching and emotional moment.

A young soldier arrived toward the beginning of my shift, and after chatting for a few minutes about his flight he told me his younger brother was also flying in on leave that night.

The soldier said his family knew he was coming to visit that weekend, but didn't know when he would arrive. Then he dropped the most exciting piece of news: his family had no idea his younger brother would be visiting as well, for the first time since he joined the military.

I asked where they lived.

"Daly City," he responded. "So I should take BART, right? And then SamTrans? Would you mind finding the bus schedule for me?"

The soldier looked so unassuming, and content with everything he had at the moment: that he was here in the U.S., safe, and about to see his family and deliver them a wonderful surprise.

"How about," I said, "we give you a ride home after our shift?"

I nudged my co-volunteer, Bryan, who immediately agreed.

"Yes," he declared. "We'll give you a ride home."

"Really?" the soldier said. "I mean, we can take BART--"

"Nope! We're giving you a ride," I said with a laugh.

Fast forward to the end of our shift, which timed perfectly with the younger brother's arrival from his flight.

At precisely 8 p.m. when our shift ended, we boarded their enormous military sacks into our SUV and set off for Daly City.

When we arrived at their house, Bryan and I helped them unload their bags from the car and walked them to the front door. We positioned ourselves so the older brother would ring the bell, then Bryan and I would appear behind him, and the younger brother would hide around the corner to reveal himself at just the right moment.

The soldiers' mother and sister opened the door and, upon seeing their first son, exclaimed, "We were so worried about you! We had no idea when you would get in."

"Mom, I have a surprise for you," the soldier said.

His younger brother peeked his head behind the door.

"Oh my God!" the mother and sister both screamed. They pulled the brothers in for a family hug, and the father came into the entry way. A look came over the father's face when he saw his youngest boy in uniform.

"My son," he cried, pulling him in for a hug.

We watched the family reunite for a few more minutes, then left, after shaking all their hands. There were tears in their eyes as they thanked us.

This was an even more emotional experience for my co-volunteer Bryan, who also happens to be my significant other. In addition to volunteering at the USO, Bryan is a main participant of a USO program at SFO called Families of the Fallen.

The program's mission is to assist families traveling through SFO on their way to and from attending the dignified transfer of their loved one's remains at Dover Air Force Base.

Bryan has assisted many grieving families at a difficult hour. He helps them with security, boarding, ticketing, baggage and their personal needs as they prepare to catch a flight.

But on Friday, seeing a family reunite with their loved ones triggered in Bryan what he called "a very emotional response."

I asked him to describe what he felt, and he said, "It was serious. This is exactly what my families don't get to have anymore. It's emotional to observe people in their most private family moments whether it's grief or joy."


Editor's note: The names and details of the soliders and their family were excluded from this story for their privacy.

For more information about the USO, visit www.uso.org. To donate, please visit www.uso.org/donatebayarea.
Laura Dudnick April 01, 2013 at 10:30 PM
Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I'm glad you all recognize the real heroes of this story are the men and women who serve our country (including the brothers Bryan and I were fortunate enough to meet on Friday night). Linda, that's amazing you volunteered at the USO during the Vietnam War. I'd love to hear more about that, feel free to email me at Laura.dudnick@patch.com.
Laura Dudnick April 02, 2013 at 02:35 AM
Bob, great to hear from you! I will consider writing more about my experiences there, however I have to be careful since there are strict privacy policies. Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope you're well.
Laura Dudnick April 02, 2013 at 02:36 AM
Great comment, Stephanie - I completely agree!
Laura Dudnick April 02, 2013 at 02:37 AM
Thanks, Joan, and thanks for proofing this story for me on a Saturday!
Bob Cancilla April 02, 2013 at 02:41 PM
Laura, Doing well, keep up the good work at the Patch.


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