Article published Apr 22, 2007
Trading sand for snowballs

Telegraph Staff

MANCHESTER – Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Peabody was welcomed home from a tour in Iraq on Saturday with American flags and snowballs.

The 20-year-old spent seven months in Al-Anbar Province working as a radio operator, although if you ask him what he did overseas he simply says, “I was a grunt.”

Unable to move an inch without his girlfriend, Kimberly Derryberry, or his mother, Pam, hugging him, the 6-foot, 4-inch Marine seemed thrilled to see his family and closest friends waving American flags and wearing Marine Corps hats and T-shirts when he landed at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

“It’s great to be home. It’s great to be in America. It’s great to be walking around without having to wear protective gear, without having to keep your head on a constant swivel,” the 2005 Nashua High South graduate said after disembarking with some other Marines from New Hampshire.

Peabody was officially back in the states a few weeks ago – at a Marine Corps Base in Hawaii – but he wasn’t really home, he said, until he got to New Hampshire. He plans to spend his entire 30-day leave in Nashua.

What will he do first?

“I’m going to have some fun.”

In fact, Peabody told his mother, Pam, and father, Dave, that when he came home he wanted lasagna and a big party.

“Tonight we’ll have pizza and just immediate family and friends,” said Pam Peabody. “Tomorrow we’ll have lasagna, and next week we’ll have a party. My husband doesn’t want to share him with everybody just yet.”

But Jeff Poulin, Peabody’s best friend, had a different plan. He pointed to Peabody: “We’re having a snowball fight and you’re going down.”

Poulin wasn’t going to let a little thing like 70-degree temperatures get in his way. Not only did he freeze the ammo, but he brought a couple snowballs with him to the airport.

There was no frost when it came to the homecoming Peabody received from his girlfriend, a nursing student at Rivier College who spent the morning mounting a welcome home sign on an overpass on the Everett Turnpike.

Derryberry, 19, said it can be challenging having a long-distance relationship with someone who can only make a 90-second phone call every other week and doesn’t always have the time or opportunity to return letters. “But absence definitely does make the heart grow fonder,” she said. “He is the most wonderful, kind person in the world.”

The two were only a couple for three months before Peabody went off to boot camp after graduating from high school. They started their relationship on the night of their senior prom, even though they didn’t go as a couple.

“I went with one of my girlfriends,” said Derryberry. “But I was supposed to go with Josh, even though we didn’t know each other very well. But he ended up taking a friend of his who he had promised to take before. I told him since he was supposed to have taken me, he owed me a dance. It was magical. The song was ‘Wonderful Tonight,’ and we’ve been together ever since.”

Peabody’s absence was particularly hard on his 22-year-old sister, Megan. “It’s not easy going nine months without seeing your brother,” she said. She was wearing a “Marine Corps Sister” baseball cap that she said she had not taken off the entire time he’d been deployed.

Peabody said things in Iraq “are tough,” and he has mixed feelings about the war, “but when you see what a difference we make over there it makes you proud to be an American and a Marine.”

Derryberry said she had been worried what toll the war would take on her boyfriend. “When he talked on the phone about what was happening he got very serious. But he’s the same boy I met at the prom – goofy, funny and the best sense of humor – the same old Josh.”

Pam and Dave Peabody said they couldn’t be more proud of their son, but they also admit that the past several months have been tough on them.

“He’s not allowed to say too much when he’s there,” said Pam Peabody. “And we didn’t want to ask him too much because we didn’t want to distract him when he was there. We didn’t want him to lose his concentration. But you can bet we’ll interrogate him now that he’s home.”

Peabody isn’t exactly sure what’s in store for him next. After his leave, it’s back to Hawaii, and then a possible trip back home for Christmas. And then he’s been told he might be deployed to Iraq again.

But on Saturday, he was happy to take the keys to the yellow Mustang belonging to the family of one of his friends – Chris Rustici, who also joined the Marine Corps.
“Wow, this is great,” Peabody said. “They didn’t let me drive any vehicles in Iraq.”