View Full Version : Marines greeted on return from war

05-27-03, 10:32 AM
Posted on Tue, May. 27, 2003

Marines greeted on return from war
Forty-two troops received a warm welcome upon arriving at their base in Willow Grove. They were gone nine months.
By Caitlin Francke
Inquirer Staff Writer

Five-year-old Donovan Squillace couldn't wait a second longer.

He had watched excitedly as the plane carrying 42 U.S. Marines home from war landed at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station yesterday. Then, when the doors opened and he spotted a familiar face in the sea of camouflage, he bolted across the tarmac: Mommy was home.

"As soon as we started coming in through those clouds, I started crying," said his mother, Sgt. Azure Squillace, 27, with Donovan propped on her hip.

She kissed her husband and marveled at her other son, Ethan, who was only 13 months old when she left her station in Willow Grove nine months ago. "They're huge!" she said.

The return of the 42 Marines yesterday ended nine months of worry for area families who had found themselves glued to 24-hour news channels, hoping and praying that their loved ones would come home safely from the war against Iraq.

All the troops were members of the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 772, based in Willow Grove. Many of the Marines were reservists called back to active duty for the war in Iraq.

The unit was deployed in August 2002 on the USS Nassau and traveled to Kosovo and the Horn of Africa before landing in the Persian Gulf, First Lt. Caren Gonsiewski said.

During the war in Iraq, the unit flew helicopters in and out of Iraq, ferrying in supplies or moving troops. The unit is made up of pilots and mechanics.

Joanne Parello, 49, of Skillman, N.J., said she cried nearly every day that her son, Michael Oliver, 24, was gone. She set up a wall next to her desk with pictures of him, a flag and a yellow bow.

Her son was in the reserve while attending Rutgers University and she never thought he would end up at war.

"I was empty the whole time. It was like somebody took something out of me," she said.

Her boyfriend, Dave Kiddish, said he tried to counsel her and make her feel better. Michael is going to be fine, he told her. Nine months is not that long, he would say.

"I didn't believe it, but I wanted to convince her of it," he recounted.

Yesterday, the pair and 18 other members of Oliver's family gathered at the Willow Grove base to wait for his return.

A plane hangar was filled with family members of deployed troops, whose arrival was delayed for more than two hours because of the two missing seamen from the USS Nassau. The families had signs decorated with red, white and blue flags, announcing: "We Missed You Daddy" and "Welcome Home Marines. Semper Fi."

Some even wore T-shirts emblazoned with their loved one's names or pictures. Three girls waiting for their father wore shirts with WML printed on them - that's Weapons of Mass Love.

There were six carloads of family to welcome home George Bannon, 26, of Philadelphia. A reservist who had finished his duty, he reenlisted in the Marines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because he "couldn't let the other guys in his unit go without him," said his mother, Kathleen Bannon.

Yesterday, he said he was glad to be home. "I don't think it's real yet," he said. "I might wake up and be on that ship."

At the top of the things to do? Order a pizza.

"It's a nice welcome home," he said.

Contact staff writer Caitlin Francke at 215-854-2815 or cfrancke@phillynews.com.