Tallon Pollard sobbed as he said goodbye to his dad in July 2004. In a predawn drizzle Monday, the boy hailed Cpl. Daniel Pollard’s return with an exuberant smile and a soggy welcome-home sign.
On Monday, Tallon Pollard was too nervous to eat Monday. Gina Pollard cleaned obsessively. Cpl. Daniel Pollard fell asleep on the plane as soon as he knew he was finally headed home.
The family’s joyous reunion at Gowen Field early Monday ended an 18-month separation and weeks of anxious waiting for Pollard and his family. And it was the final chapter in a story that began for the Pollards and many Idahoans on July 1, 2004, when The Statesman photographed a tearful Tallon watching his dad leave Idaho.
For Tallon, now 8, Dad’s return from Iraq came none too soon. “I want to be with Dad. I haven’t seen him for 18 months,” Tallon said. “I’m so happy.”
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Here's what the reunion meant for Tallon, mom and dad:
Tallon Pollard had prepared for his father's return to Idaho. Tallon and little brother, Tadley, 4, got military haircuts to match their dad's. Tallon pulled out the same camouflage hat he wore when his dad deployed. He colored a sign reading "Welcome Home Cpl. Pollard" with red and blue marking pens.
"I'm so excited I'm getting a little sick," Tallon said as he waited before dawn Monday for the chartered airplane carrying his father and 134 other soldiers to arrive at Boise's Gowen Field. "I'm going to say we missed you so much."
The usually serious 8-year-old lived up to the pledge he made his parents more than a year ago: He'd be the man of the house while his father was away.
He's looked after his mother and siblings, Tadley and 2-year-old Tansy, in a way that belied his age, his mother, Gina Tallon, said. He's even argued with his grandfather, Jerry Pollard, over who was the boss.
"The years are passing by so quick," the 8-year-old said.
Shortly after Daniel left July 1, 2004, Gina's hands and one foot were seriously burned in a grease fire. So Tallon helped his mother look after the house and the other kids.
"He's had to take on a lot," Gina said.
Tallon was 6 and about to start second grade when his father left Idaho, and he's had to grow up quickly, Gina said. Tallon matured emotionally as his body grew: He's inches taller and almost halfway through third grade.
Tadley also grew taller, lost his toddler shyness and started pre-school. In the months her father was gone, Tansy transformed from a baby into a chatterbox little girl with sweet blue eyes.
Even the children's play centered around Daniel's military mission. When Daniel was home on leave earlier this year he and the boys built a camouflage-net fort named "FOB Warrior U.S.A," complete with a big American flag. In Iraq, Daniel was based at Kirkuk's Forward Operating Base Warrior.
"They train out there," Gina said. "They take Tansy out there and she tells them what to do."
As Daniel's airplane taxied up to the crowd waiting at Gowen Field, Gina couldn't contain her excitement. She jumped up and down and her feet skittered across the tarmac.
"It makes it worth getting up at three o'clock in the morning," she said. "I'm about to have a heart attack. I can't breathe."
"I want to see Daddy," Tallon told his mother.
"I know. Hang on, hang on," Gina told her son.
Gina said she was slightly nervous about re-establishing a connection with her husband.
"It's like getting married again. We will be married nine years in January," Gina said. "He said he wanted to renew our vows."
Gina opted not to take one of Tansy's beauty tips Monday morning for "peanut butter lickstick."
The military couldn't provide a specific date for her husband's return, Gina said. So she spent the last two weeks ritually cleaning the house and filling the refrigerator with treats for Daniel.
Daniel's requests were simple: "He wanted a gallon of milk with his name on it, eggs and something to grill." She also stocked up on "good stuff for the shower."
Said Gina: "Daniel said, 'You can't wash the sheets anymore this week or they are going to disintegrate.' "
Like her three children, Gina has changed physically and emotionally in the 18 months her husband was away. She's lost 65 pounds — nerves swiped her appetite — and what was short auburn hair now touches her shoulders.
Gina slept with the computer on — volume turned "full blast" — so she could hear when Daniel logged in online. No more. And no more will she sleep with the cell phone between the pillows on her bed.
Daniel flew into Fort Lewis, Wash., more than a week ago, where he quickly wrapped up required classes and paperwork. Then the military communication specialist had to cool his heels while the military found him a flight home.
It was difficult knowing he was within a day's drive of home but unable to see his wife and children, Daniel said. He stayed busy cleaning barracks and calling home often. And he "got a good haircut" — his head was shaved.
"I would rather have been in Iraq demobilizing" instead of being so tantalizingly close to home, he said.
The Daniel who returned from Iraq is quieter and more introspective. He lost weight and gained muscle.
"Daddy, let me see your muscles," Tadley asked, and then showed off his own muscles.
At breakfast at Denny's, Daniel was careful to choose a seat where he could see the entire room. The Pollards joined hands to pray before their first family meal in months.
As they ate, Daniel caressed Gina's shoulder with a mixture of familiarity and first-date nervousness. The moment was awkward, he said.
"You get used to 3,000 guys with you all the time," he said. "There is always an adjustment. It's a lot to take in."
Daniel talked little but did help Tadley spread butter on a stack of pancakes with a bacon smile. Then he launched into his two plates of "real" scrambled eggs.