TYLER, TX (KLTV) - From the deserts of Iraq to the piney woods, their journey home came to an end. On a weekend dedicated to those who have fought for our country, East Texans welcomed home their own.
It was a hero's welcome as three soldiers returned home to a crowd made up of friends, family, and the Welcome Home Soldiers group.
The spirited greeting came as a surprise. "I wasn't even supposed to fly here really. I got changed," said United States Army Specialist, Justin Newman. Specialist Billy Jackson added, "It is a big surprise, I really appreciate it. Not a lot of people really do appreciate what we do over there. Sergeant First Class, Bob Hardy, agreed, "It made me feel very proud. I wasn't expecting this. I didn't know anything was going on."
This homecoming marks and end for Hardy. He's retiring after 22 years of service. Hardy says he'll miss the camaraderie of the military, but looks forward to what lies ahead. "Being home, coming home, staying home," said Hardy. His daughter, Tami Bates, said, "He's done a couple tours in Iraq, so it's a relief for the whole family because he doesn't have to go out there anymore."
Veterans in the crowd like Sergeant Travis Newton understand the importance of a warm welcome. Newton said, "They need to see how much they are appreciated. This goes all the way back to the Vietnam War... The soldiers who came in weren't appreciated. A lot of them were spit on. A lot of them were chastised and put down because they fought. In my heart, I am one who doesn't want to see another soldier treated that way."
On this Memorial Day weekend, the homecoming has special meaning. "It's very special because most of my family has been in the military," said Jackson. Hardy added, "My biggest concern is, don't forget the fallen veterans. They need support just like everybody else."
The soldiers on active duty will spend the next two weeks with family before returning to Iraq.