LAWRENCE — Seven weeks after returning from Afghanistan, Army Spc. Robert Maldonado Jr. was officially welcomed home by his hometown this week.
Three electronic signs throughout the city flashed announcements of his return and Maldonado, 23, was honored by the City Council Tuesday night.
The ceremony started at the Robert Frost Fountain at Campagnone Common with opening remarks by the city’s Veterans’ Service Officer, Jaime Melendez.
“This is a wonderful day to welcome one of our own,” Melendez said. “Thank you on the city’s behalf .”
Members of the Lawrence High School JROTC cadets, of which Maldonado had been a member during his student days, took down the City of Lawrence flag and then the cadets, city officials, residents and members of the American Warrior Riding Platoon, went across the street to City Hall where the ceremony continued in the City Council chamber.
World War II Army Sgt. Leo Sicard, 91, was special guest. The JROTC cadets marched to the podium and presented the city flag to Sicard, who in turn gave it to Maldonado — symbolic of the old veteran welcoming the new.
“It’s a very simple, poignant service full of symbolism,” said City Councilor Marc LaPlante.
Laplante talked about city residents who have served in the Armed Forces from the Civil War to the present and noted that the common is named after the Campagnone brothers — Albert, Carmen, and Bernard — who died in Germany during World War II.
In the Common there is the Soldier and Sailor’s Monument erected to honor the Civil War dead, and others commemorating the heroism of those killed during the Spanish-American War World War II, Korean War and a Women’s Veteran’s monument.
“I feel a sense of joy, peace and deep appreciation,” Maldonado said. “It’s very inspiring to know all they have done to welcome back one soldier. It shows the devotion and respect they city has for us,” Maldonado said.
“It’s like passing the torch,” he said. “It’s a special honor to be able to do this because I know him and his company were protecting our country,” said Sicard, who fought with the 112th anti-aircraft artillery battery in the medical attachment. He received the expert rifleman, Good Conduct, Euro African Middle-Eastern campaign and Croix de Guerre. After the war, Sicard worked as a budget analyst at Bell Lab in North Andover.
Laplante said he hopes welcoming home ceremony become a tradition in the city.
Laplante came up with the initiative to welcome service men and women back from the battle field after talking to Jay and Susan Dowd two years ago at a Memorial Day service at Bellevue Cemetery. The Dowds said they were disappointed the city did not honor returning soldiers. The Dowd’s son, Philip Dowd is a captain in the Army stationed at Ft. Gordon, Augusta, Ga.
Maldonado a 2008 graduate of Lawrence High, was a company commander with the JROTC. He attended Norwich University before being deployed to Afghanistan for one year.
“He’s a fine American and we’re so proud of him,” said Lawrence High JROTC Maj. Kathleen Romano. “He’s an inspiration to all the people in Lawrence because of his belief in honor, duty and country.”
Four members of the American Warrior Riding Platoon attended the ceremony.
“To give him the city’s flag is their way of saying ‘Thank you’ which is priceless because the town is welcoming him home,” said Dave Palmer, an Army and Air Force veteran of the Vietnam era. “I’m happy to have him wear our colors.”
To have a family member or friend recognized by the city for their service to the country, email Councilor Marc Laplante to mplante@cityoflawrence or by calling him at 978-376-6702 or Veterans’ director Jaime Melendez to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 978-620-3282.