Grateful crowds welcome home soldiers

By on June 5, 2009

Unit completes tour of duty in Afghanistan
by Susan O’Neill
Dekalb County—Monday morning rain did not dampen the spirits of the crowds waiting to welcome home local soldiers returning from their tour in Afghanistan.

Groups of well-wishers and grateful citizens lined Main Street in Sycamore holding placards with the words “Welcome Home” and “Thank You” waved flags of all sizes and cheered as about 50 members of the Illinois Army National Guard Alpha Battery of the 2nd Battalion, 122nd Field Artillery Unit, arrived on buses and walked down the street.

Two Vietnam veterans, Stephen Ludwig from DeKalb, who served in the U.S. Navy during the war from 1970 to 1971, and Don Brown from Genoa, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970, held a large flag as they waited for the troops to arrive.

There was no welcome home for them when they came back from Vietnam more than 40 years ago, but they expressed no bitterness. The two men came out to welcome home fellow soldiers who had served their country as they had.

“We never want what happened to us to happen to another soldier again,” Brown said.
Kathy Stelford of Sycamore was literally draped in the flag, a shawl decorated with names of the people who died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I don’t support war,” she said as she touched her peace symbol necklace. “I’m of the ’60s generation. But I so appreciate the people that serve in the armed forces to protect our freedom. I’d love to see them all come home.”

Dorothy Hitzeroth and Patty Hamer of Sycamore had waited in the sometimes heavy rain for an hour or more to show their appreciation to the soldiers.

“We gave everybody a hug and a thank you,” Hitzeroth said. “They loved it.”

The soldiers deployed to Afghanistan June 15, 2008, to train and mentor the Afghan National Police. At the armory, a brief ceremony that was closed to the public took place after which the soldiers were reunited with their families.

Photo: Members of the Illinois Army National Guard Sycamore Armory received a warm welcome home on Monday. Photo by Susan O’Neill