Posted on Thu, Mar. 23, 2006
Families, friends cheer Marines' homecoming
By Dogen Hannah

The breath that Richard Jacobs had been holding since his son left for Iraq last year rushed from his lungs in a relieved and elated whoop Wednesday.

"Yeah! Woo-hoo!" the Pittsburg resident shouted to his son and 14 other Marines who arrived at the Concord Vet Center after spending some seven months at war. "Welcome home! Welcome home!"

A crowd of family, friends, military veterans and other well-wishers greeted the Marine reservists with grins, hugs, handshakes and more than a few tears of joy.

"They put their lives on the line," said former Marine and Antioch resident Larry Stiles, 66, of the Marine Corps League. "The least we can do is turn out and say thanks."

The 15 Marines, members of the Concord-based 3rd Longshoremen Platoon, left home in June and arrived in Iraq in September. Their job was mostly to help run helicopter landing zones at bases in Fallujah and Ramadi, restive cities west of Baghdad.

Only one of the Marines had served previously in Iraq, and all now are free from being sent back for at least a year. While in Iraq, some of them received awards for outstanding performance, said Tim McWilliams, the platoon's commander. The group completed its Iraq tour with no casualties.

That was an enormous relief to the Marines' friends and family, who had tried not to dwell on the dangers of war in the past seven months. By Wednesday, almost all they could think about was seeing their loved ones, finally home safe and sound.

"I didn't eat dinner, and I didn't eat breakfast because I forgot," said San Jose resident Catrina Anchondo, 22, who stayed up almost all night Tuesday, eager for her husband's return. "I have butterflies."

Friends and family of Hercules resident Richie Ngo were just as excited to see the 19-year-old corporal. About 18 of them were on hand for his homecoming and planned to treat the college student to a barbecue and snowboarding trip later.

"He's very homesick," said sister Vicky Ngo, 23. "We're really relieved that he's back."

Pittsburg's Andre Jacobs, a 21-year-old lance corporal, was just as relieved to be back from war. He was looking forward to picking up where he left off with his girlfriend, returning to his construction job and "just taking it day-by-day, just trying to get back to life."

Wednesday's welcome appeared to be a great start.

The Marines left the Middle East for Camp Lejeune in North Carolina last week, but not until the group rolled into Concord did Jacobs feel as if he had returned home.

"It's amazing," he said, minutes after embracing his parents, niece and girlfriend. "It's a feeling that you've waited for for so long. You never think it's going to come."
Dogen Hannah covers the military and the home front. Reach him at 925-945-4794 or