WOOD RIVER, Ill. — Marine Cpl. Luke Malone got the “Thanksgiving” welcome home Thursday he didn’t quite expect.
“Wow! I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” the 23-year-old said.
Flags and banners lined North Second Street to greet the Marine for his arrival at the home of his grandmother, Mary Malone, about 4:30 p.m. Family, friends, neighbors and parents of other Marines stood and waited for Malone to arrive.
“It’s awesome; I can’t believe what they are doing for him,” said Malone’s mother, Carol Badgley of Cottage Hills.
Friends of Malone’s family, Rodney and Gretchen Cook, wanted to do something for the young man who served the past 4½ years in the Marine Corps, including a tour to Afghanistan. Malone just received his honorable discharge and will be home permanently.
Badgley said she is thrilled to have her son home, especially in time for Thanksgiving.
Rodney Cook said he wanted the crowd of nearly 75 people to cheer as loud as they could when Malone approached. As one car drove down the road, everyone began to cheer, and then they realized it wasn’t him.
“Just wait, he’s coming,” Cook said.
Then the dark blue Nissan arrived, and Malone stepped out of the passenger side of the vehicle and immediately hugged his mother and grandmother, then his girlfriend, Kylie Edwards, 23, of Bethalto.
“I’m so glad he’s back alive and well,” Badgley said.
After giving hugs to nearly all of his family and friends, Malone began shaking the hands of many neighbors, city residents and Marine veterans who came to the “hero’s homecoming.”
“Oorah,” Malone said as he shook the veterans’ hands. “Semper Fidelis.”
The Latin phrase, which means “Always Faithful,” is the motto of the Marine Corps.
Bernie Caldwell, who is a Marine vet and a Hartford Village Board member, shook Malone’s hand and then thanked him for his service.
“Welcome home, young man,” Caldwell said. “We appreciate your service for this country.”
Joe Silkwood of East Alton said he heard about the event during his Rotary meeting Thursday and wanted to come and see what it was all about. His son, Anthony, also is a Marine. Silkwood said he’s now a part of the Corps family and wanted to support such an event.
Malone said it’s a blessing to return to his hometown with such support, and he was happy to be with friends and family.
Rodney Cook said he appreciates Malone and all the other members of the military who serve their country. His son, Jordan, is a lance corporal in the Marines and stationed at Twenty Nine Palms, Calif.
Cook said Malone’s homecoming was the first of many for which they plan to do such “welcome home” ceremonies for those who have served proudly and been honorably discharged.
“We are grateful for the time Luke and others like him have spent defending our country,” Cook said.
He said that he wants to see three times the crowd that appeared for Malone’s homecoming whenever they welcome home the next service member.
Several people spoke to the crowd, but more importantly told Malone how they felt about his safe return. They said they were glad he made it home safe, unlike their friend, Marine Lance Cpl. Kenny Corzine of Bethalto, who died from an IED explosion in December 2010.
Wood River Mayor Fred Ufert presented Malone with a letter of appreciation.
“We appreciate all he has done for this country and are glad for your safe return,” Ufert said. “We are grateful for the time you spent defending our country.”
City Council member Cheryl Maguire said communities have honored the fallen for years, but she finds it remarkable that people want to honor those who return safely to this country.
“They put their lives on the line for us, and they should be treated accordingly,” Maguire said.
Cook agreed. He said one of the reasons he felt it important was that he doesn’t want to see the military treated the way they were when service members returned home from Vietnam and felt alone.
“A Vietnam veteran didn’t receive fanfare when he returned home,” he said. “We want to change that.”
Malone served with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines out of Camp Pendelton, Calif., as an infantry/rifleman.
“It’s amazing what everyone has done for me,” Malone said. “I’m truly honored by all of this.”