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Thread: Homecoming at Twentynine Palms
04-18-06, 07:07 AM #1
Homecoming at Twentynine Palms
Homecoming at Twentynine Palms
The Desert Sun
April 18, 2006
Lt. Denis Oliverio should have been on the bus that arrived at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms late Monday.
He should have been one of the 110 Marines and sailors of Bravo Company's 1st Tank Battalion, which finished a seven-month stint in Iraq.
Instead, the 37-year-old waited on the other side of a chain-link fence with family members and friends just for the opportunity to thank his three brothers who saved him when he was shot in his upper left arm in October.
"I can't give him anything for his uniform," he said of each of the men. "But I can give him a handshake."
Just days before the nation's eyes are turned to this base for President Bush's visit, hundreds of servicemen and family members focused their attention on those arriving home. Carrying welcome-home signs and balloons, the families waited for hours in Victory Field just for that hug.
Oliverio has been home for six months, having 13 surgeries to repair the damage the bullet caused Oct. 14.
The lieutenant, who has 18 years in the corps, was part of a team that was protecting the town of Sa'dah from returning insurgents during Operation Iron Fist.
He was trying to redirect some of the men. Unable to get them on the radio, he stood up, his upper body outside the tank.
"I felt the hit and spun around," he said of the shot that earned him the Purple Heart.
The bullet cut through his upper arm, slicing an artery and nerve. Doctors later told him that, as far as damage goes, he got the "bonus plan."
He credits three men for saving his life: Lance Cpl. Joel Burge, Cpl. Dennis Lea and Cpl. Jared Malone.
Families and friends quickly spotted Oliverio in the field Monday. The combat fatigues and flesh-colored cast gave the Boston native away.
"Finally," Joel's father, Jim, said, coming up and shaking hands.
"Thank you," Oliverio said. He paused, struggling to find words.
Another, a fellow Marine, came from behind with a huge bear hug.
"You don't look that bad," said Capt. Stefan Sneden, a former company commander of his.
Oliverio flexed his arm.
"Titanium, man," he said, chuckling. "How does that feel?"
A loud speaker broadcasting music provided continual updates as to the caravan's arrival. With every update, Oliverio paused, tears filling his eyes.
He should have been on that caravan.
Oliverio has worked on recovery since October, a reconstruction that includes titanium plates. He's been transferred to Maryland so he can get better treatment.
It will still be about two years before he can feel his fingers again.
But on Monday, he was simply grateful to be there. He'll be there again Wednesday, when scouts and tows return.
"I feel like I have 21 kids coming back tonight," he said.
His cell phone rang. His wife wondered along with everyone else at Victory Field: Are they there yet? Are they there yet?
Suddenly, the announcement came that everyone wanted to hear: The buses are around the corner.
Oliverio jumped up and down with excitement.
He stretched his 5-foot-6 frame to try to see over the crowd.
"Where should my heart be? Should it be down here or should it be up here?" he said, pointing to his throat. "Because it feels like it's up here."
As the buses came into view, he put a final call into his wife, Kate.
Suddenly, the Marines poured out of the bus. Oliverio navigated the crowd of embraces and kisses, finally coming to some faces he recognized.
"It's good to see you guys," he said to each one. "Welcome home."
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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