SOUTH BEND —
Sgt. Ben Martin of Osceola grinned from ear to ear Friday afternoon after being dismissed by the commander of Engineering Company B, 6th Engineer Support Battalion based in South Bend.
He saw his wife, Veronica, holding their 9-month-old son, Clay, who wasn’t quite sure about all the excitement and started crying. The family had tried to get the baby to nap earlier but Clay sensed their excitement and wouldn’t settle down, Veronica said.
Martin didn’t mind. It was just the second time he had met his son.
“I’m happy to be home and doing this now,” Martin, 26, said, pointing to Clay. “The days were very long (in Afghanistan). I’m glad to be home.”
Martin, an Elkhart Police officer, was one of 50 local Marine reservists who returned home Friday after a seventh-month deployment in Afghanistan. The Marines’ plane landed in Ohio Friday morning. After eating breakfast they boarded two charter buses that, with the aid of multiple police escorts, snaked up U.S. 33 — through Ligonier, Goshen and Elkhart — and to the Armed Forces Reserve Center Hall on Kemble Avenue in South Bend.
Company B — which includes Marine reservists from across northern Indiana and southwest Michigan — deployed last May and spent several weeks training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Marine Corps Base 29 in California before being sent to Afghanistan.
After kissing his wife again, Sgt. Martin greeted his parents, Peggy and Bruce Martin of Osceola and his grandmother, Claudia Martin.
“Welcome home, son,” Peggy said. Grandma Martin just tightly hugged her grandson, too overcome with emotion to say anything.
It was a scene repeated often during the chilly afternoon.
Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Haggerty of South Bend, knelt down beside his 5-year-old son, John Michael Haggerty. The boy was holding a sign that read “Welcome Home Daddy,” with hearts drawn on it.
“Daddy, do you like my sign?” Michael asked.
“Yes, I love your sign,” Haggerty said, with tears in his eyes and giving his son a hug.
“The hearts are for you,” Michael said, hugging his daddy in return.
A reporter asked the boy what he thought of his daddy being home and the 5-year-old gave a one-word answer, “Yea.”
Haggerty shared his sentiments about returning home to his wife, Kristen and their other son, one-and-a-half-year-old Matthew.
“It’s great, it’s just great,” Haggerty said. “The first time I deployed I didn’t have any kids. It’s a whole lot different this time with two kids. Nothing compares to being home.”
Waiting for their arrival
The arrival time of the Marines was scheduled for noon and Veronica Martin was disappointed at the news that they were running behind a couple hours, which meant a longer wait to see her husband of three years.
“I’m feeling excitement and butterflies,” Veronica said. “After 10 years, I still get butterflies. It’s a good feeling. Clay learned how to wave and clap and we’re trying to perfect the wave for when he sees his daddy. The reunion is the best feeling in the world.”
She was nine months pregnant when Martin left in May.
“There were a lots of tears and fears of the unknown,” Veronica said. “This time these are good tears, happy tears. He’s coming home to me and his son.”
The couple texted each other as the two buses headed toward South Bend.
“I’ve been here since about 10:30 a.m. I couldn’t sit at home and wait,” Veronica said. “It was good for the kids to play together while waiting for their daddies to get home.”
Around the large open hall, there were children bouncing balls, running and chasing each other while waiting. Two rows of tables provided seating for people eating or just visiting. A box of Kleenex on a table was available for anyone needing tissues.
The air was filled with a sense of excitement, restlessness, eagerness, anticipation, laughter, happiness, pacing, and families waiting.
Sgt. Martin’s grandma, Claudia, said she couldn’t wait to see his reaction to his baby and was happy to have her grandson coming home.
“It was hard,” Claudia said. “I prayed for his safety all the time. I missed having him around to help me if I needed it. I’m a widow and he’s helped me so much. I hope he can stay home and doesn’t have to go back. I’m proud of him serving his country.”
The Martin family was looking forward to celebrating their Christmas with the whole family together, very soon, Ben’s mother, Peggy said.
“We’re not new to deployment,” Peggy said. “Ben was deployed in Iraq but he wasn’t married and he didn’t have a child. ... I’ve been so proud of Veronica while Ben has been in Afghanistan.”
Going through Goshen
There was also excitement in the Maple City as the Marines’ caravan zipped through town around 1:15 p.m.
Turning out to say “thank you” to the Marines were St. John the Evangelist Catholic School students and their teachers. The students made banners with painted handprints and markers that read “Thank You” and they carried American flags from their school to Main Street.
As the cavalcade of police cars and the buses carrying the Marines turned the corner of U.S. 33 and Ind. 15 in Goshen, the students waved, saluted and proudly displayed their banners. Their enthusiasm to greet the Marines earned them honks from the bus drivers.
Up the road a spell at VFW Post 985, a small pack of veterans and military supporters waited in the parking lot along U.S. 33 for the buses to pass.
Among them was Dick Klase who served in the 38th Division of the Army National Guard from 1952 to 1958. As the buses rolled past, Klase stood at attention and saluted.
“It’s just good,” he said, “to have them back.”
The sounds of arrival
People stood against the fence in the parking lot and looked around as sirens echoed in the distance, and signaling the imminent arrival of the motorcade.
“Where are they, where are they!?” families asked each other, and began clapping and waving as the motorcade rounded the corner into the parking lot.
Elkhart and Goshen police were part of the Honor Guard welcoming the reservists home. They included Jeff Gorball, Mike Janis, Mark Daggy, Shanye Miller, Honor Guard Commander Kevin Koontz and Jeff Schrock.
“It’s an honor to be allowed to come and help show support,” Schrock said. “It’s another honor to be allowed to carry the colors.”
After the buses passed by the waiting group, everyone filed back indoors to wait until their Marines had turned in their final paperwork before being released.
“We have to see that young man come home now,” Claudia Martin said, smiling.
Everyone was ready for their men to come home.
Managing Editor Michael Wanbaugh and Regional Editor Sheila Selman contributed to this report.