From Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul

Reunion on the Dock

It was a chilly December day in 1945. I stood, one of an expectant crowd, on a dock in Tacoma, Washington. Although the Red Cross ladies had given us steaming cups of coffee as well as thermal gloves to wear, we still huddled by the garbage-can fire, savoring its warm flames as they leapt up in the crisp sea air.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the tattered letter that I must have read a hundred times, and read it once again. “The war is over. I’m coming home!”

Lieutenant Robert Marks, my husband, was alive and well, and coming home from Seoul. It had been so long, I still didn’t know if I believed it.

The letter had been delivered to me in Seattle, less than fifty miles from Tacoma, where I was serving as company commander at the Ft. Lawton WAC Detachment. I’d been relieved and happy and excited all at once, and the girls in my company had shared my elation. Three long years of loneliness, sleepless nights and the dread of a “We regret to inform you” letter were about to end. Over and over, I’d had the thought, What I wouldn’t give to be there when Bob’s troop ship, the Oscaloosa, pulls into dock!

So I could hardly believe it when one of the ranking officers at Ft. Lawton pulled me aside and said, “We’ve arranged a surprise welcome for Bob in Tacoma. You’ll be there when he steps onto American soil again for the first time.”

The morning of Bob’s return, my driver and I left Ft. Lawton so early that we arrived in Tacoma with hours to spare. I was waiting on the dock, dreaming of the future that Bob and I would share, when suddenly a tugboat made two short blasts with its horn, startling me out of my reverie. I watched as the tiny tugboats nudged the huge troop ship into the harbor, where it safely anchored.

The Oscaloosa was docked. My husband was home.

On board the ship, Bob’s crewmates had kept the secret of our homecoming from him, so while I waited impatiently outside, Bob, deep in the hold, slowly and methodically packed his barracks bag. He was so absorbed in his task, he told me later, that he didn’t even hear a page for him and was surprised when one of his buddies tracked him down and told him to report to his battalion commander.

“You’re getting off the ship,” Bob’s commander told him.

“Just me?” a puzzled Bob asked.

“Just you,” his commander replied. “Get your paperwork and gear together.”

Bob gathered his things, wondering what was going on. As the gangplank was lowered, a large number of soldiers were all standing on deck, watching in silence. On the dock, my fellow officers and I strained to see, quiet with anticipation. The only sounds were water slapping against the ship and screeches from seagulls.

Suddenly the hatch opened and Bob—my Bob—emerged. He was thin, his skin orange from the medication he’d been given to ward off malaria. Still, my heart raced wildly. This was the moment I’d been awaiting for years, the moment when I’d run over to meet my husband, to hug and cry and laugh with him. But for some reason, I couldn’t move. I was suspended in time, like a movie frozen midframe.

Bob walked slowly down the gangplank. Then he saw me, and time started again. Bob ran toward me, his bags tossed aside. He grabbed me, laughing, swung me up in his arms and covered my face with kisses. I hugged him again and again, tears of joy the only speech I could muster. The soldiers on deck went wild, cheering and chanting: “Mar-ga-ret and Bob! Mar-ga-ret and Bob!” They flashed the victory sign, and the band broke out into song: “It’s Been a Long, Long Time.”

We hugged so long that the people around us eventually smiled, shrugged their shoulders and returned to their tasks.

The Red Cross volunteers, fighting back tears, rushed out with steaming cups of coffee with real cream for us. Bob finally released his hold on me, took a sip and grinned. “This is the first good cup of coffee I’ve had in years,” he said.

We nibbled at warm cinnamon doughnuts on the chilly dock, oblivious to anything but each other and our coffee and doughnuts. We touched hands and smiled with pure joy. Such simple, ordinary acts—they hardly warranted the delight they gave us. But my husband and I were together, you see, and it had been a long, long time.

Margaret Brown Marks

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