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thedrifter
04-12-03, 04:17 PM
Young Marine welcomed home
Family, friends greet 19-year-old wounded in Iraqi gunbattle

By Brian D. Crecente, Rocky Mountain News
April 11, 2003

Parents, sweetheart, friends - the trinity of a teen's young life - greeted Marine Lance Cpl. Val Saucedo as he hobbled out of the elevator at DIA Thursday night, a teenage veteran of the latest war in Iraq.

Saucedo, 19, was shot in the leg March 26 during a gunbattle while serving in a communications unit with the 1st Marine Division, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

A crowd of well-wishers at Denver International Airport waved flags and cheered as Saucedo made his way around other arriving passengers with the help of crutches.

Saucedo's father, Valentin Saucedo, pressed his head to his son's and kissed him, grabbing his face in his hands.

The father beamed, proud of a son whom he had always been proud of.

He caressed his son's cheek, grabbed him by the shoulders - checked to make sure he was really there.

"Want me to carry you?" he asked.

The younger Saucedo laughed.

Valentine Saucedo spent Thursday anxiously awaiting his son's evening flight from Washington, D.C., to Denver.

"I'm ready to jump out of my skin," he said over the phone as he prepared to leave for the airport. "Everyone is just overly anxious to meet him."

Valentin Saucedo said he's always been proud of his son.

"He doesn't consider it fame; it was a job he needed to do," he said. "He wishes he could be with his comrades there. He's got the heart of a Marine."

Val Saucedo's mother, Martha, and his three sisters got to the airport nearly an hour before the flight arrived.

"I'm pretty excited to see him," said Celicia Saucedo, his 17-year-old sister. "All my friends and family tell me to tell him how proud they are of him."

And many of them came to the airport to show it, including his girlfriend, Crystal Candelaria, 20.

Candelaria cried as she hugged Saucedo, whispering to him and kissing him.

"You know they are out there, but you never think anything is going to happen to them," she said, smiling.

Saucedo handled the attention quietly, smiling in embarrassment at his dad's affections and the waving flags. A "Welcome Home, Val" banner stretched across 12 feet, flanked by red, white and blue balloons.

He said he watched from a hospital as the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled from its steel feet, and he called the act a symbol of victory.

"It feels great to be back home," he said. "But I wish I could still be out there. I just can't be."

Eventually Saucedo's father managed to leave his son's side, give him space, some time to spend with the friends that had come to see him, but he still smiled as he watched him talking.

"Look at him, it's like nothing happened," he said. "He's amazing, he really is.

"I know he can take care of himself, but I will always watch out for him as long as he is alive."

Sempers,

Roger