Just a few days after returning home from the war, I was given a home coming party. Lots of family members were there along with my new pen pal from Mesquite, Zachary, his mother Patrice and younger brother Nicholas. The first person I saw was five year old Nicholas. He came running up to where I was sitting with a flat top haircut. I thought he was Zachary initially and said, "You got a new haircut." Then I saw Zachary walked up to me with the same hair style. Patrice said they went to the barber and said they wanted a Marine haircut like mine.
During the party, I mentioned to Patrice that I was going to visit Ashley and David's school and would also visit Zach's school if he wanted me to. She said, "Are you kidding? He would be upset if you didn't. He hasn't stopped talking about you and won't wear anything but the Marine shirt you gave him. I had to beg him to take it off so I can at least wash it for him."
It was some time during the early part of May that I visited Zach's school, I was wearing my desert camouflaged uniform. I got to speak to the class and even had lunch with them. By the end of lunch, other teachers approached me and said, "My class is going to die if they don't get a visit from you. Do you have time and would you mind?" I said, "Of course." Zach accompanied me to introduce me as his friend. Zach gained instant popularity that day.
Some time in September, I went to a recreational center after work to shoot some hoops. I signed in, grabbed a basketball, and entered the gym. There were some boys flying paper airplanes on one end of the court so I went to the other end. I was there shooting hoops for about 5 minutes when I saw out of the corner of my eye, those same boys approaching me. One of them asked, "Aren't you Zach's Marine friend?" I answered, "yeah." He then asked, "Can I have your autograph?" Then one by one they all presented their paper airplanes for my autograph. I felt like a celebrity. I was especially impressed that they remembered me from several months ago.
It wasn't the only time I was asked for my autograph. I was at an air show when some kids came by and asked for my autograph. There was a parade in Garland, Texas where I was originally from when I was asked for my autograph. Then there were people from my church that even asked me for it. Only that was kind of as a joke because I was in the paper that week.
The photo that I'm sharing was from the Dallas Times Herald, which is no longer in circulation. I still have several copies of it. I got a phone call from Patrice one day asking if I had any strange calls lately. I hadn't and asked why. She said a reporter from the Dallas Times Herald was going to call me about running a story about me. I asked her how she knew about me and Patrice said, "A little birdie told her." The reporter did call and we set up a meeting time at Patrice's apartment.
When I got there, she was already there. They asked questions and took notes. Then we went outside to take a few pictures. As we walked out back, Zach saw a bird hopping on the ground and appeared that it could not fly. He was trying to grab it but was not quick enough. I was able to get it for him and put it in Zach's hands. The photographer began snapping photos like a paparazzi. We also took photos of the two of us together but they liked the bird picture for some reason.
So, the church members grabbed a copy of the paper, that I didn't even know they knew about, and they all asked me for my autograph. I thought they were kidding at first but turns out they really wanted me to sign it. I didn't know what to think about all of this attention.
One of the greatest honors of all was an invitation to appear at a special concert being held at Six Flags. I didn't know what to expect but I was told to wear my uniform. It was a three day event, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I made it on Saturday and Sunday, taking Nick on Saturday and Zach on Sunday. We spent the day enjoying the rides prior to attending the concert. I remember Nick wanting to ride the kiddie train and wanted me to ride with him. I told him, "I don't think I can fit inside one of those train cars." But the attendant quickly pointed out that there were outside seats on top of each car that I could fit in. I kind of gave her the look like, "Gee, thanks." So we went for a ride on the little train that basically went around in circles. I felt a little ridiculous but it meant a lot to Nick. He had a blast and was grinning from ear to ear.
That evening we went to the concert and at some point I was escorted back stage with other Gulf War veterans. My good friend, Lance Corporal Tanner was there with his wife. Nick stayed with her while we gathered backstage. I still didn't really know what was about to happen but was told we were going to march out on the stage, face the audience, and then go to parade rest. It was completely quiet up to the point we went to parade rest, then the audience jumped to their feet and cheered really loud for us. It was an unbelievable experience and I almost burst into tears with an enormous sense of pride that overwhelmed me. I don't even remember what happened after that. I do remember after exiting the stage and seeing Tanner's wife come through the side gate to the backstage area and Nick was with her. Once he saw me he immediately ran into my arms.
The next day I took Zach with me. We rode all the big rides and then went to the concert. This time, we were marched down in front of the stage and stood there while everyone came by shaking our hands and thanking us for our service. Zach got to stand next to me taking it all in. It's one of my favorite memories that I will always cherish.