November 24, 2005

When most Americans were sitting down to their Thanksgiving tables last year, Lt. Michael C. Sofinowski was stuck at a Louisiana base, waiting for his battalion to fly out to Iraq. As he picked over the remains of a holiday spread, the Jarrettsville soldier vowed he would be home for Thanksgiving this year. That idea, of sitting down with family for turkey, sauerkraut and the fixings, stayed with him over the next 11 months. As he traveled northern Iraq and the dangerous Sunni Triangle, setting up communication networks for front-line battalions, he repeated the Thanksgiving pledge to himself - as though saying it often would make it so. And, with a few weeks to spare, the 25-year-old did make it home, with his girlfriend's ruby ring still around his neck, a tiny Maryland flag tucked in his gear, a stack of letters stashed in an old shoebox.

He made it home to Maryland in one piece - and brought home with him the 51 soldiers under his command. And the latter has made all the difference as this young soldier reflects on his Thanksgiving homecoming. Not the things he carried, or the family he left behind, but the members of the 129th Signal Battalion he returned to Towson and Cumberland, Cheltenham and Pikesville - homecomings that inspire welcome thanks and prayerful reflection on the thousands yet to return.

It would be grand to mark this holiday and have no need to mention Iraq. But with the war now in its 32nd month and more than 2,000 American families shattered on its account, the thanks given today must acknowledge their sacrifice as well as celebrate the return of soldiers such as Lieutenant Sofinowski. Their service and bravery cannot be forgotten.

At the same time, this year has seen many thousands more Americans displaced from their homes along the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi by Hurricane Katrina. This year, for many of them, home is less a place than a state of mind. There are Louisianians without a resting place, their bodies as yet unclaimed or withheld from relatives until the paperwork backlogs recede. Families who dined at the same Thanksgiving table for years are separated by cities and states, relying now on the kindness of strangers. Others are yearning for a homecoming they won't likely see any time soon; 50,000 families are trying to make do in motel rooms. These Americans, not unlike Lieutenant Sofinowski, can only hope that next Thanksgiving will find them home again.

But some remain undeterred by the ruin and the wreckage wrought by Katrina. Consider Pallie Thompson, the mother of an 8-week-old daughter who cheerfully describes her present living situation - sharing a three-bedroom bachelor pad in suburban New Orleans with her husband, mother, husband's best friend (the bachelor), two cats and a dog. She and others insist their homecoming is just a matter of time, money and restoration work, and they are grateful for the chance to rebuild. In Plaquemines Parish, on the banks of the Mississippi River south of New Orleans, the annual Thanksgiving luncheon drew a larger than expected crowd Tuesday, which prompted Parish President Benny Rousselle to remind those in attendance, "We're all still here."

Say amen, somebody.

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