I always get chills when I photograph military homecomings. It doesn't matter how many I shoot, who my clients are, how long the deployment has been-- these homecomings are sobering and real. It's so difficult to explain the mood and atmosphere to someone who has never experienced one, but I always try my best to do so in these posts.
The drive to the parade deck was dark. This part of Camp Pendleton is pretty secluded and since it was a smaller homecoming, there weren't any huge signs pointing me in the right direction. Luckily I found my way. Once I parked, I made my way to the building where the families of 2/11 waited. A few kids were playing tag and wrestling as cartoons played on the projector screen. Some people were chatting or eating the food set out. But mostly it was quiet. I almost felt like the click of my shutter was intrusive. Some people talk a lot when they're nervous, some shut down and just wait. This room was full of people doing the latter, including Heather who kept her hands clasped as she watched her son play with the other kids. Outside on the parade deck, a dozen or so Marines sat on the bleachers, waiting for the gear to arrive. A few balloons and streamers danced in a light breeze and here, too, it was quiet. The air was cool and it was peaceful. It felt like the happy ending of a movie where everything was falling right into place. All I could do was watch and witness.
Heather contacted me several weeks ago to photograph her husband's homecoming and I was thrilled to meet her. She is sweet, soft-spoken and that night she was anxious. We talked about her son (who shares the exact same birthdate with my son), where she was from, and of course her husband. She told me that once the Marines started filing off the bus, I'd be able to spot her him easily-- he'd be the one with a BIG smile. And boy was she right. When her husband finally stepped of the lone bus, their son rushed to daddy, whose smile you could see from a mile away. I watched him wrap his arms around his family and simply say, "I missed you guys." Then I just snapped away, capturing a father and son bond, and mom watching blissfully as her family became whole again.
Each reunion is unique with it's own reactions and emotions, but they all share the same overwhelming sense of pride and love. I swear I will never get sick of being a witness to it all.
Here is the Hunt family's homecoming story through my eyes. I hope you enjoy...