Christmas came a little late this year but it was certainly worth the wait. Saturday morning the extended Burnett family and various additions, assembled for lunch at Andy’s new apartment in Tyler. Sixteen people shared lunch and exchanged presents. My Aunt Judy and Uncle Ron drove in all the way from Maryland, my grandmother hitched a ride with them from Texarkana for the day, Joal and I came from Nashville, Deb and Matt from Oklahoma…it was a little chaotic but still so wonderful.
Speaking of Andy’s apartment, can I just say “Wow.”? Daniel chose well--the complex is new (still being completed, in fact) and the layout of the unit is open and designed to be very functional for Andy’s needs. It’s big and spacious and I have a feeling that he will be very comfortable there. Even with so many people, it was still very comfortable. There are two bedrooms and two baths--intentionally selected so that Andy can comfortably host the long list of guests who want to spend time with him, now that he’s home (including his sisters).
The apartment is coming together--before lunch on Saturday, the boys (Andy, Daddy, Ron and Joal) went shopping for Andy’s sofa. Andy discovered that he likes furniture shopping and I have a feeling that the Ashley Home Furnishing Center has not seen the last of him. Joal is taking credit for preventing the purchase of “a girly couch”. They came home with a super long extra-firm sofa that has a suede look to it. It’s a very nice, manly addition to the living area. I’m pretty sure everyone has now tried it out and approved.
The Welcome Home Celebration was held at the boys home church--First Church of the Nazarene in Tyler, and was assembled by the very gracious and generous Sherry Crain. I know that “Miss Sherry” spent many many hours preparing for every detail of this day and her tireless efforts showed. The people attending were well-organized, the church decorated beautifully with red, white and blue banners, streamers and balloons and the food was plenteous and delicious. The team of people in Sherry’s army really pulled out all the stops for this day. We are all filled with gratitude and appreciation to all of the Tyler First people who worked so dilligently to pull this off.
At a few minutes past 2 on a brilliantly sunny Saturday afternoon, Andy and Daniel pulled into the parking lot at the church--Andy behind the wheel of the new truck. They got out and as Andy rounded the corner of the parking lot, the deep booming voice of one of the guard riders called out “Atten…tion”. The crowd of people lining the sidewalk on both sides came to a silent, respectful stop. All was quiet. The sound of flags--lots of flags--whipped in the wind. “pre--sent arms” the same guard rider snapped. Members of the crowd saluted. Andy, Daniel, Mom and Dad and Uncle Ron and Aunt Judy began to move forward thru the path. People began to clap and cheer.
And then a man approached Andy and held out his hand. Andy stopped and looked up. We couldn’t hear when was being said but I had a feeling this was the special surprise I had been warned about. SFC Rodney Eubanks (also from Tyler) served with Andy in Afghanistan and just happened to be home on leave when he heard about Andy’s homecoming. It was an honor to have one of his Army brothers walk beside him into the sea of so many.
In the crowd were family members, people we call family from several states and all across Texas, friends from churches current and past, fellow firefighters, at least two Marines and other fellow servicemen and women, veterans, community leaders, pastors, adults and children, motorcycle riders, many many members of East Texas Military Families, the Patriot Guard and the American Legion.
East Texas Military Families members participate in “Welcome Home Soldier” events in the Longview/Tyler area whenever a soldier comes home. Anna DeLaet is their team leader and she is an invaluable asset. ETMF WHS presented Andy with a hand-crafted quilted wall-hanging signed by many of their members and people attending the event. They also presented him with a number of gifts and goodies. Anna was also responsible for notifying various media outlets of this soldier’s homecoming. Because of her work, a camera crew and reporter from Channel 7 (KLTV) and a newspaper journalist were present to speak with Andy and record this momentous occasion.
Andy and company passed through the long lines outside the church and made their way into the church. Inside, the church was decorated beautifully with red, white and blue ballonns reaching towards the exceptionally tall ceiling in long colorful lines. Two massive, beautifully-decorated cakes said “Welcome Home Andy” and plates of cookies and snacks were there for everyone to enjoy. A selection of patriotic songs played in the background and a collection of Andy’s photos edited and arranged by his good friend Cory played on the overhead projector screen.
For two solid hours people came thru the line to greet Andy, shake his hand, thank him for his service and his sacrifice, wish him well, hug him, pray with him and present him with gifts, cards and mementoes of the day. It was a gracious outpouring of kindness, gratitude and support. It was beautiful to watch and capture on film.
I wish I could have spoken to every person there. I wish I could tell every person how deeply appreciated they are for participating in this day--especially those who were there not because they know Andy personally, but because they felt the need to welcome home a soldier as a good American. Thank you for sharing your day with us.
As the afternoon’s events came to a close, Andy was exhausted (we all were really). I don’t think he has yet realized what he has come to mean to so many--especially the people whom he had never met before.
There were some guests that came from other parts of Texas--the Myers are very good friends to Mom and Dad. Also driving in for the day was my Uncle Frank and Aunt Beverly (Frank is my father’s cousin) from Irving, TX. Dad and Frank grew up together and many many of the adventures my dad likes to recount of his youth start out with the phrase “One time Frankie and I…“ and usually ends in some kind of crazy trouble or legendary escapade.
Later in the evening, we watched Andy on the 6pm news and again on the 10pm news. Sunday morning brought Andy’s image on the front page of the The Tyler newspaper with a good story.
All in all, it was an excellent day…one that we will all remember for a very long time with great pride and appreciation. It was a glowing tribute to what it means to be an American, to the power of community and the grace of God’s family.
I think I can speak for the family once more and say that we are deeply grateful for the prayers that have led us to this day and for the outpouring of friendship, admiration and love that has been shown to Andy and by extension, to us throughout this journey.
It’s far from over--in fact, a new phase is just beginning. It will be different--not what anyone planned but I am convinced that it will be better than anyone could have imagined. As Andy says, “smile and move forward”.
Please continue to pray for Andy and Daniel as they re-adjust to their altered lives. I am walking a fine line with continuing the updates on the blog and I confess I am not quite sure how to balance Andy’s (and Daniel’s) need for some discretion and my loyalty to those of you who have let me know how faithfully you read the blog and pray for my family. In an effort to satisfy both, I will be posting updates from Andy and Daniel on or right around the first of each month.
Other than the monthly updates, my blog will go back to being mostly scrapbooking and a little bit of here and there in the adventure that is my life with 2 boys.
The Tyler Paper’s front page article can be found here.
The Channel 7 piece can be seen here.
Andy’s new address is available upon request. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org