View Full Version : A bittersweet celebration

10-31-06, 06:08 AM
A bittersweet celebration
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

Forty guys went over. Thirty-nine came home.

While moms, dads and fiancées welcomed the Marines of the G Company of the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment back to Picatinny Arsenal yesterday with handmade signs, hugs, hamburgers and plenty of picture taking, the day was bittersweet.

One member of the company, Lance Cpl. Chris Cosgrove, wasn't celebrating with them. He was killed by a suicide bomber Oct. 1 at a checkpoint outside Fallujah in Iraq.

His company was scheduled to move out the day after the incident, said Shannon Smyers, a hospital corpsman with the company.

"We're just happy to have them home," said Smyers, of Lake Hopatcong, a member of the active duty staff at Picatinny. "One day earlier, we would have had them all."

The men had been gone since January, when they left to train in California. They deployed to Iraq in March with a sister unit based in Massachusetts.

After seven months in Anbar province, the Marines left Iraq earlier this month and traveled to Kuwait (where they filled up on McDonald's cheeseburgers and fries), then to California, before returning to Picatinny about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Yesterday's event, which included a parade through the military complex, a barbecue and a performance by the Morris Hills High School marching band, marked the Marines' official homecoming celebration. Patriotic songs played, punctuated by the occasional "Boom!" of weapons being tested underground.

"It had been seven months since we've seen him, and knowing what he's been through, we were so excited to get him back on safe ground," Thomas Corsanico said of his 24-year-old son, Cpl. Thomas Corsanico, of Delran, Burlington County.

The elder Corsanico wore a red T-shirt that proclaimed "Welcome Home, Tommy!" and spoke proudly of his son, who enlisted in May 2002. He had always dreamed of being a Marine, since he got his first GI Joe outfit, his mom, Eileen Wian, said. But the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, solidified his ambition.

"We still don't know where he got the guts," Wian said as she waited for the parade to return to the sunny parking lot outside the drill center.

Soon, the Marines -- who crowded into the backs of two flatbed trucks for the tour through the Picatinny complex -- returned, accompanied by wailing sirens, honking horns and wild pounding of the band's timpani. They jumped off the trucks into the arms of their families.

Cpl. Cleveland Atwater, 30, of Garfield, reached for his daughter, Ayanna, who was born six days before he left for California. Throughout the celebration, he held the 10-month-old, who was dressed in a camouflage sweat suit, with a matching hair band.

"It feels great, it feels outstanding," Atwater said of being home. "It's like a dream."

During the deployment, he printed out digital photos of his daughter and kept one in the front pocket of his desert uniform, along with a rosary his wife had given him.

"That was my little blessing, my lucky charm right there," said Atwater, who like many of the Marines wants to begin a career in law enforcement.

Lance Cpl. Mark Neri of Berkeley Heights wrapped his arms around his fiancée, Mary LaRiviere, whom he plans to marry in December -- he hopes before his brother, an active duty Marine, deploys to Iraq.

"I'm very proud to be part of history," said Neri, 22, who is majoring in history at Rutgers University. "I'm glad to do my part in this war."

Neri was good friends with Cosgrove, a Hanover resident and 2001 graduate of Whippany Park High School.

"He went out a hero," Neri said. "We're all proud, proud as hell. He was definitely one of the most gung-ho out of everyone there."

Laura Johnston may be reached at ljohnston@starledger.com or (973) 539-7910.