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thedrifter
10-17-07, 08:33 AM
Marine gets noisy welcome home
Cpl. Bobby Brown didn't want a parade -- so Minooka gave him a salute of horns

By Erika Slife

Tribune staff reporter

October 17, 2007


Cpl. Bobby Brown thought he was at the Minooka Community High School football field to surprise his brother Danny, who was indeed startled to find his oldest sibling home on leave from Iraq.

"Oh, God, dude, how are you doing," Danny said repeatedly, throwing his arms around his brother.

Then the happy reunion at football practice on Tuesday was interrupted by a cacophony of sirens, horns and motors from a brigade of law-enforcement officers and the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcycle riders who usually attend military funerals.

"I told her no parades," Brown, 23, said with a smile, to no one in particular. Wearing civilian clothes -- he didn't want to stand out at the airport, he had said -- he made his way across the football field, not at all mad at his mom, who allowed a family friend to hatch the homecoming surprise.

The celebration was meant for Brown, a field radio operator with the 9th Communications Division out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., who left for Iraq in March.

But as family and supporters watched him thank everyone for coming, shake hands and hug his baby brother, it was clear the effort meant almost as much to them as it did to him.

At a time when many have grown weary of the steady stream of bad news coming out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Brown's family, friends and supporters seized an opportunity to cheer his safe return, even if it is only for 10 days.

He will report back to California and is scheduled to leave for Iraq in four months, he said.

"I think every time someone makes it home alive from a war, that's worth celebrating," said Al Yancey, the fire chief in Minooka, who was in the crowd. "Any soldier deserves a great welcome home."

And the Patriot Guard Riders are happy to oblige, participating in happy homecomings in Des Plaines and Woodstock in the last week, said Mike Stuckey, a local ride captain. It's good for the soul, he said.

"These young men and women are doing a terrific job in very serious conditions. I'm a Vietnam vet, and when we came home, well, we just came home," he said. "We don't want that to happen anymore."

The group was formed in 2005 in response to a Topeka, Kan., church group that protests at military funerals. With members nationwide, the Patriot Guard Riders attend funerals when invited by families, in part to show their support and to counter the protests. Support for the troops eventually evolved.

"You don't think it's weighing heavy on you when you do so many [funerals]," Stuckey said. "But then you stop and think, 'Can I go to another one?' You need these reprieves to rejuvenate yourself."

For most of Brown's homecoming, it was smiles, hugs and backslaps. But for his parents, the moment was bittersweet. Their second-oldest son, Matt, 21, is in Iraq too.

There's a possibility the brothers, who are best friends, their mom said, won't see each other again until 2010.

"I was freaking out," Bonnie Melland recalled, when her sons told her they had joined the Marines. "Bob said, 'I know you're upset.' And he said, 'Mom, you're going to be proud of us.'"

Her voice cracked: "Boy, was he right."

But Jan Avery had watched her friend worry herself sick over her children this year. Melland was in the hospital two weeks ago for chest pains.

"She's been kind of a wreck having the two boys over there," Avery said.

That was why Avery decided to do something special when she heard Brown was coming home.

She looked up the Patriot Guard on the Internet and found Stuckey, general manager of an Ace Hardware store in Minooka.

Stuckey reached out to the sheriff's offices from Will and Grundy Counties and the Minooka Police and Fire Departments.

All agreed to participate in the welcome home.

Avery was delighted with the outpouring. She could only guess why the caring was so evident.

"I think it's just that people are happy to see someone come home in one piece for a change," she said.

Melland had spent the first part of the day making last-minute preparations in her home just outside Shorewood.

"She's always on the phone," Larry Melland said, laughing. His wife mouthed a "No, I'm not" as she finished a phone conversation with a friend. Then she beamed.

Her son was coming home.

eslife@tribune.com

Video
www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-homecoming_17oct17,1,2560697.story?track=rss

Ellie