GLADEWATER — They made an Apache pilot cry Saturday at Beverly and Danny Mahan’s house.
“I hope y’all enjoyed that,” Army Chief Warrant Officer Jason Scott Hallman said, after being surprised at his aunt and uncle’s house by a Welcome Home Soldier greeting complete with banners, flags and cheering strangers.
Home on leave from a tour in Afghanistan — his latest service in 16 years that includes work in Desert Storm, Kosovo and three Iraq war stints — Hallman is crossing his fingers he’ll next find himself teaching others to fly the Apache helicopter at Fort Rucker, the Army aviation center in Alabama where he learned to fly.
The Gilmer High School graduate plans to spend his Memorial Day weekend with his wife, Jessica, and children Haley, Katie, Gracie and Jason, ages 12, 9, 7 and 4 respectively.
He is likely, like many Americans, to remember fallen comrades-in-arms during the holiday set aside for honoring those who gave their lives defending this country.
“I think about them a lot,” Hallman said after settling into a chair and before digging into a crawfish and gumbo feast that’s become a family tradition built around his ship-out and return dates.
He thinks about Bradley Gaudet, a fellow Army helicopter pilot from Gladewater who died June 5 in Afghanistan.
“He made the ultimate sacrifice,” Hallman said of Gaudet, who at 31 was three years Hallman’s junior when he died. “I know that sounds cliche, but it is. Everybody sacrifices — family members, the soldiers — but, the ultimate sacrifice is giving your life to freedom. But you can only give that sacrifice once.”
Most Americans don’t mind letting their gratitude for sacrifice spill over to active personnel.
“To us, it’s a way of honoring the service and sacrifice that they’ve given us for freedom,” said Welcome Home Soldier organizer Polly Morman.
“We really need to let them know that they are appreciated. When you see people with the T-shirts or the caps that indicate they’ve done military service, just go up to them and thank them for their service. Slip around to the waiter and pay for their meal. Just tell them, ‘This is from a grateful American.’ ”
Hallman’s cousin, veteran Mike Timmons of Gladewater, agreed Monday’s holiday celebrates all military servants.
“It’s about remembering and recognizing the true (heroes) that laid down their lives for their country, or put their lives on the line for their country,” Timmons said. “That’s why Jason is being celebrated today. He’s done that many times.”
Hallman said it’s just nice to get a nod from the community.
“I wasn’t expecting any of this,” he said, remembering the callous way Vietnam veterans were received when they came home. “I don’t know if I could go through what those guys went through. I wish every one of those guys could get something like this.”
Things have changed. While in the Dallas airport, he said, he noticed people on the other side of a glass walkway smiling at him.
“And people just started clapping,” he said. “They just all stopped what they were doing and they just clapped. You couldn’t really hear them, but you could see them. And it was great.”