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thedrifter
05-11-08, 09:53 AM
May 11, 2008
Families celebrate as sons return from Iraq

By Abbey Brown
abrown@thetowntalk.com

Jo Guillory and Michele Byrd couldn’t wipe the smiles from their faces. Standing just a few feet away were the best Mother’s Day presents, Graham Guillory and William McLure Farley – their sons safe and happy just a few weeks back after serving nearly a year in Iraq with the Marine Corps.

“The fact that it was Mother’s Day didn’t really enter into the picture,” Byrd said. “It could have been Halloween. I just wanted him home.”

Jo Guillory said they’d been hoping they’d be home in time for the holiday.

“It’s just such a treat having him here,” she said.

Although the two returned about two weeks ago, Graham Guillory has been home just two nights, and one of those nights was spent at his family’s Alexandria home celebrating the two Marines’ homecoming with family, friends and a few special guests – multiple generations of Marine Corps veterans.

“It feels good to see the level of respect and appreciation,” Guillory said of the group of veterans sitting around him.

George Foote, who served in the Corps from 1939 to 1946, joked that seeing him and the other veterans let’s the younger Marines know “you can survive. We’re proof you can make it, even if you don’t feel like it.”

Farley served in Ar Ramadi and Guillory in Haditha. Both helped train the Iraqi police and security forces.

“It feels good to be home, as you can tell,” Guillory said with a smile. “I’m excited to be back.”

Farley describe the experience as a real “eye opener” seeing how things work on the other side of the world.

The two said they received positive support from the Iraqis they dealt with on a daily basis, pointing out that the police and security forces still heavily depend on their supplies, manpower and training.

“We’ve seen huge (improvements) with the police and security force since we’ve been there,” Farley said.

Barett Byrd, who served in the Marine Corps from 1977 to 2006 said he was in Iraq in 2005. Hearing what it is like now from his stepson Farley, Byrd said he can tell the difference the military presence there has made.

“When I was there it was a running gunfight the whole time,” he said. “Now you hear things like, ‘There’s no one to shoot at,’ ... You know there’s been tremendous progress made. They’ve really turned a corner.”

The gathered veterans had some advice for Guillory, Farley and the others returning home after intense deployments overseas.

“You have to be cautious with your frustrations,” Byrd said. “While the Army and the Marine Corps are at war, America is at the mall. A lot of people have no appreciation for what you’ve gone through. Everyone sitting at this table has worn a uniform and knows what it’s like, but 98 percent of Americans don’t.”

Foote summed up the change in perspective soldiers gain with, “The big things aren’t really big things anymore.”

David Smith, who served from 1967 to 1970, said the two have gained perspective on life at their young age that most never will get.

“They understand what the world is about,” he said. “A lot of people here take for granted the comforts we have.”

Wayne Denley, who served in the Marines from 1968 to 1971, said those returning now will find that their contemporaries 30 years from now will regret not having the experiences Guillory and Farley had in the Corps. And those experiences, he said, will change them.

William Culpepper, who served from 1939 to 1950, said seeing the two men home and knowing what they, and the other soldiers have done makes him “proud of this country.”

Ed Voelker, a Marine from 1951 to 1952, said he appreciates that Farley and Guillory volunteered. While he was serving there was a draft and said most of the men he served with didn’t want to be there.

“It’s a lot different now,” he said.

Denley said the support soldiers receive upon their homecoming is critical.

“When the country is no longer behind you, it all falls apart,” he said, pointing out what has happened in past years. “It is real important for everyone to come together and get behind (our armed forces.)”

For much of Saturday evening, the veterans joked with each other and Farley and Guillory. They reminisced about the things they missed – cold beer, running water, a sand-free terrain and, of course, family. Many of the veterans had questions about the challenges Farley and Guillory faced – have they gotten a positive homecoming from the community, were they well received by the Iraqis, what was the quality of their supplies?

“Things seem a lot different now,” Foote said of many of the two men’s answers, comparing to when he served.

In addition to the veterans, Guillory was surprised by his “battle buddy,” David Lambert of Lafayette. The two served together in Iraq.

“Graham is my brother now,” Lambert said of Guillory. “I had to come down and hang out with his family.”

Lambert said his own homecoming – he too has been home for just a few weeks – has been surreal and that there are still adjustments. But he said he’s “very happy” and he’s trying to get back into a “normal” routine.

Michele Byrd said she was focusing on the good – the fact that her active-duty Marine son, Farley – is home for now. She’s trying not to think about the fact that he has to leave today to go back to Camp Lejeune, N.C.

“I’m happy he’s here and home now so I can give him a big old hug,” she said, swallowing back the “big lump” in her throat.

Jo Guillory gets to savor the moment longer. Her son, a reservist, reports back in September and returns to reserve status.

“We’re just enjoying them,” she said, smiling.

Ellie