View Full Version : Cheers, crowds greet returning Marines

10-07-05, 06:28 AM
Cheers, crowds greet returning Marines
By Thomas Sheeran
The Associated Press

BROOK PARK, Ohio - People with relatives in a Marine Corps battalion that lost 48 members in Iraq cheered loudly Thursday as the unit finished its trip home.

Thousands of people lined a one-mile parade route from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to welcome back the 160 Marines of Headquarters and Service Company of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines.

The parade route led to a recreation center where the Marines could have private reunions with friends and family.

"You don't really realize what we have until it's gone," said Melissa Schlabach, 25, of Canton, who brought her 2-year old son, Josh, to welcome home her brother, Cpl. Brent Monastra, 23, of Canton. "I'm really excited to see him. Growing up with him, you don't realize what you have until he's not around."

The Marines' fallen comrades were on their minds as they returned.

"It's really sad, I lost a lot of good friends," said Lance Cpl. Jason Woodliff, 23, of Massillon, who served in Iraq with his brother Johel Woodliff, 20.

"There's nothing else you can do but come back and lead a normal life and think of them as you go along," Jason Woodliff said.

Lance Cpl. Nick Kehl, 23, of Berea, said the deaths made the homecoming difficult. "It's really hard losing guys," he said.

The battalion commander, Col. Lionel B. Urquhart, told family members their support was important to the Marines while they served overseas.

"We couldn't have done it without you," he said. "You lifted our spirits when our spirits needed to be lifted."

Brook Park police estimated the parade crowd at more than 5,000.

The caravan of Marines was escorted by a more than 70 civilian motorcycles plus police cars, fire trucks and an ambulance with sirens sounding and lights flashing.

The Marines saluted the flags held by a color guard at the recreation center. Some carried their bags. One walked with crutch.

Lance Cpl. Eric Montgomery, whose brother Lance Cpl. Brian Montgomery, 26, of Willoughby, was killed while the two served in Iraq, worked at the homecoming directing relatives and Marines into the center's parking lot.

"Right now, it's just bittersweet," Montgomery said. "I can't wait to see these guys get home so bad. I love these guys."

Montgomery escorted his brother's body home in August.

"There's a part of me wishes my brother was coming home with them and that I was coming home with them, because I was looking forward to that," he said. "But I'm home now and I just can't wait to give these guys the welcome they deserve because they're all heroes."

The battalion's deaths included 14 Marines killed in back-to-back attacks within a week during the summer. Five of those Marines were from Greater Cincinnati. Another 150 unit members were wounded. The battalion has about 900 members.

The reunion scene was the Brook Park recreation center, which was decorated with a red carpet and banners reading "Thank You," "We Love You" and "Let Freedom Ring."

A separate arrival ceremony was held in early afternoon for Beans, a puppy adopted by Cpl. Jeff Boskovitch, 25, of nearby North Royalton, and fellow Marines. Iraqi villagers sold the puppy for a quarter and three jelly beans and she became the unit's mascot.

Boskovitch was killed in Iraq on Aug. 1 and his mother, Kathy Wright, asked the Marine Corps to fly the dog here to live with her. It had been her son's wish to bring the dog home.

Homecomings are planned today for battalion units based in Akron and Columbus. The battalion also has units in Buffalo, N.Y., and Moundsville, W.Va.