Delavan-based soldiers return home

Steve Stein

LaVerda Deterts returned to the town where she grew up Tuesday for a special reason.

She came to Delavan to watch the 1144th Transportation Battalion of the Illinois National Guard return from a yearlong deployment in Kuwait in support of the war in Iraq.

"I’m an ex-Air Force wife, so I’m very patriotic," the Bloomington resident said as she waited patiently for a welcome home parade in downtown Delavan to begin.

"This is fabulous. When military personnel like my husband came home from Vietnam, they were shunned. It’s important for these men and women to know that America stands behind them. We haven’t forgotten them."

Delavan didn’t forget the 60 citizen-soldiers in the battalion that was deployed in April 2007.

Streets were decorated with U.S. flags, yellow ribbons and fresh flowers, and the names of the soldiers in the battalion were displayed on light posts.

A sign on a storefront read, "Welcome home from Iraq!

Well done! Hooah!"

Students from District 703 schools lined the parade route, marched in the parade, and greeted soldiers as they entered the Delavan Armory, site of a standing-room-only welcome ceremony.

Delavan Elementary School Principal Paul Lewis fired up his students before the parade, leading them in cheers from the middle of Locust Street.

"Our staff and students did a wonderful job representing our district," said Superintendent Mary Parker.

The soldiers rode atop fire engines in the parade. At Fourth and Locust streets, they crossed under the outstretched ladders of aerial fire trucks from the Morton and Pekin fire departments.

Bagpipes played and motorcycles driven by Patriot Guard Riders roared as the crowd cheered the troops and family members screamed and cried as they spotted their loved ones.

"This is wonderful. It’s exactly the way it should be," said Linda Melson, who made the 126-mile drive from Somonauk to greet a returning family member.

The battalion — part of the Joint Logistics Task Force based at Camp Arfijan in Kuwait — tracked, monitored and oversaw convoys hauling cargo throughout Iraq and Kuwait. It supported close to 90 missions that covered about 94,000 miles.

After undergoing physical and mental evaluations, being briefed on returning to civilian life, and filling out paperwork at Camp Atterbury in Indiana after their arrival there Thursday, soldiers left for Delavan on two buses Tuesday morning.

Patriot Guard Riders escorted them all the way on their journey.

Maj. Gen. Dennis Celletti, one of several speakers at the welcome ceremony, said the soldiers did their jobs well.

"You went beyond the standards," said Celletti, assistant adjutant general for the Illinois Army National Guard.

Several speakers thanked family and friends for their support throughout the long year when their loved ones were half a world away.

"I had to make the difficult decision to cancel leave a couple times because the mission was too important. I knew you’d understand," said Lt. Col. Eric Murray, the batalion commander.

"Welcome home. The day we feared might never come is finally here," said Delavan Mayor Elizabeth Skinner.

Before they were reunited with their families, the soldiers prayed in a tight circle just like they did before each mission.

At the word, "Amen," the soldiers were officially dismissed.

"There’s a lot of good work being done over there. Everyone needs to know that," soldier Mathew Stufflebeam of Canton said as his family surrounded him.

Steve Stein can be reached at (309) 686-3114 or