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04-09-08, 05:31 AM
Marine returns home
April 9, 2008

ELGIN -- The big blue house at the corner of West Highland and Woodland avenues has attracted its fair share of spectators and appreciators throughout the years.

Its old-fashioned design and features have received city recognition for its historical value.

But for all its appeal, it merely stood as a backdrop Sunday afternoon when scores of family, friends and neighbors came through the door to see the day's main attraction.

Standing in the living room, dressed in his uniform to greet the constant line of well-wishers was 22-year-old U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Eric J. Chapman, who came home last month on a 30-day leave after serving seven months in Iraq.

As a combat engineer stationed in Fallujah, Chapman helped build military checkpoints. He also searched for and destroyed enemy munitions.

Chapman recently earned distinction for his service when he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, given to service personnel who demonstrate a high standard of professionalism that goes beyond their normal duties, or for those who show strong leadership during wartime.

According to the citation, while serving in Iraq's Al-Anbar province, Chapman led a platoon to create obstacles around a bridge in the town of Karmah, denying enemy combatants access. While in the town of Zaidon, he led an excavation team that was responsible for uncovering a number of enemy weapons stockpiles.

Now home, Chapman said he felt more optimistic about life in the region he left compared to when he first arrived.

"It was nice to see people starting to rebuild," he said. "I thought everything was going to be war-torn and depressed looking, which it was, and when we left they were repaving the streets and opening up market again -- it was surprising."

Now in his third year of duty, Chapman said his life in the military has been a long departure from the 2004 Larkin High School graduate who described himself back then as being kind of a "punk kid."

"It's definitely adjusted my priorities," he said. "When I went in, I was just a punk kid just trying to have fun. My work ethic is now a lot better."

Older brother Clay, who also served as a Marine, said the change in Eric is something that's seen in nearly everyone who has served.

"You have to live the perfect life, the perfect existence for the whole time you're in," he said. "You can never be late and you can't say you're sick. Even the worst guys there who you think aren't towing the line are always on time and always doing their job."

Clay said the change he has seen in Eric has been a source of pride for the entire family.

"We're all real proud of him -- he's taken the Marines as an opportunity to better himself and he has exceeded everyone's expectations," he said. "We're proud of his leadership and dedication to the core and to his country."

The return home marks the first visit in three years for Eric, who previously was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, where he will return in a few weeks. From there, Eric will wait to see if his request to serve in Afghanistan is approved.