The signs drew Jake Moore to his family.
As he stepped off the bus, he walked toward the one that read “11 months I held you in my heart. Today I will hold you in my arms.”
Moore, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot and Massillon resident, disembarked one of two buses that reunited 73 soldiers with their families and loved ones for the first time in nearly a year.
“We prayed him home,” Kathy Moore said of her son, who was engulfed in a sea of 20 family members, including two sons and his wife.
His grandmother looked on as eight children swarmed their father and uncle.
Jake is one of three grandchildren in the Moore family who are enlisted in the military — one in the Army, another in the Marines and Jake in the Ohio National Guard.
Dan Moore, Jake’s father, joined the family outside Canton McKinley High School on Friday to welcome Jake home along with the rest of Company B, 3rd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment.
“Our prayers are answered,” Dan Moore said. “We prayed every day. I hope he never has to go back.”
Moore and his helicopter unit deployed to Salerno and the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Dec. 11.
During that time, the group supplied aerial support for troops.
The unit flew 2,000 hours in 11 months, delivering 2.5 million pounds of cargo and transporting 29,000 troops. They also assisted in recovering downed aircraft and performed more than 10,000 maintenance hours on military equipment.
After a quick reception, commanding officer Capt. Thomas “Tommy” Morrison, a Cleveland resident, tactically filed his men down a hallway by the high school’s auditorium.
As the bald heads, crew cuts, camo outfits and tan boots shuffled down the hall, Morrison took a moment to reflect on the most important accomplishment. It wasn’t measured in the thousands of flight hours of transported passengers. In fact, his greatest accomplishment added up to nothing.
“Everybody’s got all their fingers and toes,” Morrison said, standing with his chest out and his arms behind his back. “And that’s the best feeling.”
The unit suffered no casualties.
Inside the auditorium, family and friends packed the seats to near capacity. A deafening applause, followed by ecstatic yelps, filled what little room was left.
As the crowd quieted for the chaplain’s invocation, a toddler wiggled in a mother’s lap and cried, “Da-Da.”
In the upper rows, Dusty Martin, 27, waited anxiously as her husband of 14 months joined his fellow soldiers at the front of the auditorium. They were married on Sept. 11, and for 11 of the following 14 months, the newlyweds have been communicating through Skype and email.
“This is the first time he’s been away from me,” she said with her eyes fixed on the group of 73 soldiers.
Distinguished guests gave thanks to the troops for their service.
They included outgoing U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley; Mayors Willam Healy of Canton and David Held of North Canton; and state Sen. Frank LaRose.
Speaking last, Held had little left to say that hadn’t been said already.
“There are no words to express the gratitude for all our soldiers,” the mayor said.
Speaking last, Morrison addressed his men.
“Be proud of what you’ve accomplished,” he said.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330 996-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org.