One day, I was catching a flight out of the Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield, California. As I pulled up to the airport, I noticed a crowd of hundreds of people, news cameras, a fire truck with a huge American flag hanging from the ladder, several law enforcement vehicles, and at least thirty Harley-Davidson motorcycles parked nearby.

Corporal Wesley Barrientos

Corporal Wesley Barrientos. | Photo © by Lauryn Marette photography.

I walked over to the crowd to see what was going on. It was a homecoming for twenty-three-year-old Army Corporal Wesley Barrientos. Corporal Barrientos was returning home from his third tour in Iraq, this time on two prosthetic legs. He lost both of his legs riding in a Humvee in December 2007 when it was hit by an IED, an improvised explosive device.

Corporal Barrientos’s family had expected to see him get off the plane in a wheelchair since he had been fitted with the prosthetic legs only two weeks prior to his homecoming. But he proudly walked over to hug his family and friends.

As Corporal Barrientos walked through the rows of people welcoming him home and saluting him as he passed, a television crew approached, and the reporter asked him, “How does it feel to have a hero’s welcome home?” The corporal smiled and simply said, “I was just doing my job.”

The local American Legion and VFW members attended in order to offer a salute as he walked by. Cheerleaders and students from his alma mater, Ridgeview High School, turned out to support one of their own. There were also a bunch of Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders, complete with the leather jackets, bandannas, and tattoos, lined up to shout, “Welcome home, Wes!”

I walked over to some of the Harley guys and asked “Do you know this soldier?” “Nope,” was the answer. “We’re not even from Bakersfield.”

They told me that they were there to honor Corporal Barrientos. “I understand the local people, the law enforcement, and the veterans, but why the Harley riders? What’s the connection?” I asked.

“Well, this guy served our country, so the least we can do is ride over and welcome him home. A lot of us served in Vietnam, and we never had a welcome home. So, we do this a lot. I guess it’s kind of a tradition for us to be there for someone else.”

What an example of acknowledging those around you, honoring what’s important, and connecting to build community.

So, to make your ride more meaningful and emotion-filled, invest in traditions. Make a tradition of thanking a veteran whenever you see one.


One Comment

  1. L. Luke November 11, 2014 at 10:51 pm - Reply

    I flew home to Omaha the other night from a conference out of state, and upon walking up from the gate I noticed a woman with a camera-it appeared as if she was from a local newspaper. There was a mom with her son and daughter-about 3 and 5 years old. They were proudly holding some homemade signs they had made for their ‘prince’ and ‘daddy.’ The signs clearly told people to get out of the way, because they were here to pick up their dad! Just as I had finished reading the signs a big, bold smile covered their faces and their eyes twinkled. Daddy was on his down the hall! They little ones ran into their dad’s open arms and the embrace lasted….and lasted. Mom joined in and there was no doubt that he was there hero. I was so moved by the events unfolding in front of me I dropped my bag and began to clap. Tears filled my eyes as I loved seeing the joy and emotion in this little family, but also I remembered my brother’s own return from Iraq a few years back. He returned only to be met by the news that our mother had passed away the day before. I would have loved to have this kind of return for him. I think that every soldier returning should be met with a crowd of supporters. Whether we believe in what is happening or not, we can support those brave men and women who do serve. My brother is now a Patriot Guard Rider and greets those men and women returning, and protects a soldier as family members say their last good-byes. As I stood there I hoped that this soldier felt not only my love and admiration for him, but also of those around me who joined in. I hope this family is spending time together building a lifetime of memories. Life…it’s all too short.

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