Almost everyday, somewhere at SFO, a small crowd gathers with a few flags, and usually an impatient family, like the parents of 1st Lt. Engineer William Murray II.
"You hear the news, you try not to stay glued to the TV," says Liz Murray.
"It's no different for any parent from the revolutionary war to today," says Bill Murray.
Except that these days, soldiers no longer return on horses or trains. Instead of listening for bugles, we look at monitors until finally, they emerge from a crowd.
That's how it went when Lt. Murray came home from 15 months in Iraq.
"It's all on you. No one steals attention away when you're an only child," says Lt. Murray.
But real American homecomings don't take place in airports, they're in neighborhoods where soldiers have grown up.
And real homecomings are loud. At least, this homecoming was. Lt. Murray, who served as a combat engineer, received an escort from veterans who know how the taste of coming home can linger a long time.
"I'm a Vietnam veteran, I know what it was like to come home to not a happy welcome," says Doug Lyvere.
After 15 months and countless patrols, Lt. Murray followed his footsteps of youth into the soft, safe, familiar surroundings that he left the first time for West Point.
Freedman: "Can you describe the feeling of home?"
Murray: "Security would be the best way to answer it. That's the feeling. Security."
So until he returns to Iraq next year, it's back to the little things for three weeks. His old room, feeding his pet turtle, all the little stuff that, on a homecoming day, separates one state of mind from the other.
Freedman: "Can you get home and be just another guy?"
Murray: "I think I can pretend to be, but it will always be there."