The Longest Goodbye

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 18, 2005

DEMOPOLIS-It was hard to tell if the soldiers were wiping away sweat or tears as they stood in line in the non-air conditioned hall of the Demopolis National Guard Armory.

The 167th Engineer Company was the honoree of the departure ceremony Friday afternoon.

The program began at 2 p.m. and the troops were scheduled to leave at 3:30 p.m.

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Signs decorated the perimeter of the room. “We will miss you,” “Support our troops,” “God bless our troops,” and “You are in our prayers.”

1st Lieutenant Chris Peterson welcomed the mixed crowd of solemn looks and smiling faces.

The “National Anthem” was sung and a prayer was said. A representative spoke a heartfelt message on behalf of Congressman Artur Davis followed by mayor Cecil Williamson’s warm wishes to the troops.

Colonel Randall Martin, Commander of 169th En Gp, and Lieutenant Colonel Brian Barrontine, Commander of the 31st FSB, delivered words of motivation to the troops.

The final speech was words from the unit’s own 1st Lieutenant Curtis D. Sampson.

“You take care of home and I’ll take care of your soldiers,” Sampson told the families. “I promise you, I’m going to take care of them.”

A representative of the local VFW presented the troops with an U.S. flag and the state flag. He told them to keep the flags at their camp and bring them back so they may join the other flags in the hall of the VFW.

The representative also gave the troops a stack of phone cards that totaled 8,000 minutes – a token from the VFW and the community.

The soldiers then sat down for one of the last meals with their families before they departed.

The food was courtesy of the Alabama Pilot Club, the Hospital’s Ladies’ Auxiliary, and the VFW’s Ladies’ Auxiliary.

Between the tears and the falling raindrops, the troops found time to load the bus.

A young boy screams. “Dada. Dada. I wanna go with Dada!”

A relative replies, “Daddy will be home later.”

His father, a guard, says, “I’m coming home.”

To which the child replies, “Dada, come home now.”