After being away, nothing beats home

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Home. I truly never thought I’d get to see it. I mean that.

Standing on my porch at 2 a.m. after a cab ride from Norfolk, I thought once again, “Franklin. God, how I have missed you.”

I thought long and hard about what I would say in this last column. Would I talk about my trip home? Nah, that was a pretty boring ordeal that took six days longer than it should have, as the plane kept breaking down. Should I talk about my views on the war? Nah, who cares what I think? Everyone has his own opinion on whether we should be there or not.

What then? What should I talk about?

Then it hit me. The fact that I am so incredibly happy to be home. In Franklin. More important than Franklin, though, in America.

There’s a story I’ve never told here. It’s the kind of thing that I will always chuckle to myself about. It’s the kind of story I will tell my kids one day, as well as anyone who will care to listen when I’m old and gray. In the Navy, we’d call it as a “sea story.”

Towards the end of June, outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair paid a visit to my outpost. We had the largest number of British military in Iraq, so it made sense for him visit and say his goodbyes.

Anyway, I was one of two Americans on hand. The other was my boss down there, an Army first lieutenant. He was seated to my left. To my right was my good friend, Lance Cpl. Dickson, or

“Dicko” as he liked to be called.

“I understand

there are a few Americans serving alongside her Majesty’s forces here,” Blair said. “How do they like serving alongside the British military?” I could see a smirk forming at the corner of Dicko’s mouth.

“Sir, you’re in luck. I happen to be sitting beside a Yank — er, American — right now. Right here, sir,” replied Dicko, slapping my back and directing the Prime Minister’s attention to me.

“Right, then, you’re an American?” asked Mr. Blair. “So how do you find working alongside the British military?”

I caught a glance from Dicko. Surely, he had set me up, as he knew what kind of an answer I would give.

“Sir, I greatly enjoy serving alongside British forces. You folks have been our staunchest allies throughout various key times in our nation’s history. I am a huge fan. Not to mention the great contributions you have made to the world.”

Mr. Blair raised an eyebrow, and the whole time Dicko was facing me, he had tears forming at the corners of his eyes from laughter that he was trying very hard to stifle. On cue, the Prime Minister took the bait.

“What contributions would they be?”

I could feel my boss’ gaze on the back of my skull and could almost hear his heart racing inside

his chest, as he wondered what on God’s green earth I would say.

“Sir, you folks gave the world The Beatles. I love their music. I listen to their music every day on my iPod. If it hadn’t been for Yoko Ono, I think we could have at least enjoyed two or three more albums from them.

“But the greatest invention to come out of the United Kingdom by far has to be America. I think America is the greatest invention of all time.”

The people at the table all broke out laughing, and even the Prime Minister was laughing pretty hard. I heard my boss give a very nervous chuckle, which sounded like a relieved sigh.

“You Americans are one of a kind,” Mr. Blair said. He made some more small talk and moved to the next table. Dicko looked at me and said, “Mate, that was bloody brilliant.” I thought so too.

So, why tell that story? Well, I think it’s pretty funny, and it represents one of my more genius moments — and between you and me, that’s saying something.

More important, though, it’s true. This is a great country. America is the best place in the world to live. We are the most loved and at the same time, the most despised nation on this planet. There are no in betweens. People love us because of what we have. Others hate us for the same reason.

I love America. I know in today’s society, that’s kind of a corny thing to say, but it’s true. I’ve seen many places in my travels, and I will tell you this. Our system works. The principles we live by are the best. It’s the things we take for granted.

We can eat what we want, when we want to. We can curse the president. (Well, I can’t because he’s my commander-in-chief.) We can practice whatever religion we want. We can own guns. We can have as many children as we want. We can fall in love with a person of a different race, or even the same gender.

For the time being, though, I don’t plan to do so. For right now, I plan to get used to not wearing a sidearm and body armor, to sleeping in an actual bed without worrying about a rocket attack and to taking hot showers. But maybe I’ll have a Swiss cheeseburger first.