For Americans who are injured in combat, the first stop is Landstuhl. Here they are stabilized, then flown home on C-17s. Non-Americans get flown to the States too, but they deal with significantly more red tape before they arrive at Walter Reed Army Hospital to be fitted for prosthetics. Regardless of where they come from, the journey home for all wounded warriors is filled with significantly less fanfare.
The first C-17 on which they travel is filled with others like them. Some have obvious injuries, such as missing legs or arms held together with pins. They have to be carried on litters. Others appear fine and can walk themselves on board, until the pressure changes during a descent trigger flashbacks to an IED blast, and it becomes clear that they suffer from a different kind of injury. Only a lucky few have a friend or family member accompanying them. Most take refuge in headphones or books during the long flight. A few make temporary friendships with their fellow travelers.
Upon arrival in the United States, half the passengers are taken to Walter Reed or Bethesda, where they remain until they are healthy enough to travel the rest of the way home. The others are treated to an overnight stay at an aeromedical staging facility. Here the USO has set up a small place for them to watch TV, play video games, call home, use the Internet, and so on. American Red Cross volunteers remain for a couple of hours to make sure everyone has eaten and received any needed assistance.
Then the facility begins to quiet down. Most patients are tired from the journey and time-zone change. By early next morning everyone is awake again, because they haven't yet adjusted to the time change. Soon the remaining patients are on planes taking them to various parts of the country. When they arrive at their final destination or a stop in between, only a few people remain from the original flight. They arrive at a military medical facility with little notice. A few representatives from the local veterans' organization might be there, to thank them for their service and hand them some baked goods or blankets. Eventually they find their way home to friends or family, or perhaps to no one.
Do these Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, or Airmen receive the recognition they deserve ? Most probably do, but some may not. Theirs is a quiet return. Most are hurting and really just want to get better. Along the way they may receive visits from important people like the President or congressmen. The heartfelt gestures they do receive are mostly from other veterans, people who were once there and know what an honest thank you means. But those who have never served, or were never in combat, should know that these warriors return every day, quietly and without much fanfare.