BRUNSWICK
Doreen Hanson talked to the sky.

“C’mon,” she said, “C’mon.”

She had already waited so long. Without her husband, Eric, she had managed her first Maine winter in Lisbon Falls. She had cared for their daughter, 11-month-old Kari-Ann, alone.

“C’mon,” Doreen said again staring toward the runways. Kari-Ann wiggled and drank juice from a bottle.

Any moment, he’d be back.

Eric Hanson was in the Mediterranean. He was part of a Navy P-3 Orion squadron that flew missions over Iraq. His job was to work on the planes’ electronics.

Other men from Patrol and Reconnaissance Squadron Eight would fly. Their missions, mostly classified, took them over the Iraqi battles. They had left in February, six weeks before the war began.

For Doreen, separated from her husband for their first time in their eight-year marriage and apart during a war, it was excruciating.

“You’re more scared when stuff is going on,” she said Monday as she waited for his plane. She survived by the bits of communication they shared. She treasured every letter. And she waited for his phone calls.

“I was afraid to go to the store or lay down,” she said. “I might miss him.”

So on Monday, when he and 250 other people from his squadron were to return, she took no chances.

She came an hour early, pushing a stroller with Kari-Ann. And she began looking for the plane.

“I told myself if I was early, he would come home that much quicker,” she said. “But this is the worst.”

She wasn’t alone.

Celebration

Officials at Brunswick Naval Air Station cleared the hanger for the homecoming. There was food, a Disney video in the corner for kids and the Bath Municipal Band, whose members had left work to welcome the sailors.

On two sides, the hangar was decorated with signs made from bed sheets. They said “Welcome Home Daddy” and “We missed you.” Some were decorated with hand and footprints. Others had pictures of men in flight suits. And there were tigers, a nod to the squadron’s “fighting tigers” nickname.

More than 500 people filled the space between. Among them were Gov. John Baldacci and Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Baldacci thanked the families for their sacrifices on “the front lines of freedom.”

Snowe spoke of “the two sweetest words in the English Language: Welcome back.” And, just moments before the plane’s arrival, she jokingly apologized for the speeches, “As if you hadn’t sacrificed enough.”

Collins, who spoke next, would never finish.

“Soon we will hear the sound of freedom as they arrive home,” she began.

But the screech of the passenger jet interrupted her. As it touched the ground, the people drifted from the lectern where the senator spoke to the open hangar doors.

The charter plane pulled up and stopped. A wheeled staircase slid up.

A sea of eager husbands and wives and children waved at the faces pressed against the windows. At their undisclosed base in the Mediterranean, the men and women in the squadron had begun lining up three hours before the plane left, jockeying for the seats that would mean they would come down the stairs first.

Doreen Hanson bounced in place as the men came out the door, many brushing past the politicians to reach their families. Husbands lifted wives off their feet. Fathers held daughters.

When Doreen saw Eric, she waved a flag she held in her hand and ran to the bottom of the stairs. She nearly knocked him down as she threw her arms around him and kissed him.

Eric held Kari-Ann and lifted her in the air.

Then, he brought her down and held them both.



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