After months of difficult service in Iraq, Company B of the 133rd Engineer Battalion of the Maine National Guard came home to the sounds of sirens, honking horns, and probably the sweetest sound of all: the cheering and screaming of friends and relatives grateful to have them home again.
An estimated crowd of between 1,200 to 1,500 people greeted Company B at the Westbrook High School gym as the soldiers arrived from Fort Drum, N.Y., a little after 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2.
However, the homecoming celebration began well in advance of the high school. As the soldiers made their way up the Maine Turnpike, signs welcoming them home decorated some of the bridges, and the mile marker signs alongside the road were decorated with yellow ribbons.
As the convoy of busses got off the Turnpike, a fleet of vehicles from the Westbrook Police, the Maine State Police and the Westbrook, Gorham, South Portland, Scarborough and Standish fire departments greeted them. The convoy, with sirens blaring, passed under a giant American flag held aloft over the Westbrook Arterial by two fire trucks.
The buses carrying the soldiers made their way down Main Street and Stroudwater Street on their way to the high school gym where their families awaited.
It was a festive scene inside the gym with home made banners decorating the walls, and many people also held up hand made signs welcoming back their soldiers.
The gym was filled with a sense of good-humored anticipation as they waited for the soldiers of Company B to get off the buses and enter the gym. Several times the crowd chanted “let them in, let them in,” at members of the Maine National Guard who were organizing the event.
“We can’t wait for him to get here,” said former Westbrook resident Pamela Marston now of Portland, who was waiting for her son-in-law, Scott Caron.
And who could blame the folks for getting anxious? After not seeing their loved ones for months, they wanted the waiting to be over.
“It’s been a long year,” said Kelli Chabot of Westbrook, as she waited for her husband, Doug Chabot, to get off the bus.
Chabot’s 7-year-old son, Parker Chabot, summed up his feelings about seeing his dad in just three words. “I’m really anxious,” he said.
The waiting did not help to quell the nervousness being felt inside the gym.
“I’ve got tons of butterflies in my stomach,” said Amber Humiston, 12, daughter of Sgt. Leon and Sheila Humiston of Westbrook, who was waiting for her dad’s return.
David Currier of Westbrook was waiting for his son Chris Currier, and he couldn’t wait for the reunion.
“I haven’t seen him in a year. It’s real emotional,” said Currier.
While the waiting was hard on Currier at home, he said he knew that his son had it worse, serving for so long in a dangerous area. “To go through what they went through, I can’t imagine it,” he said.
Finally, it was time. As the soldiers finally entered the gym, the joyous screaming inside grew louder and louder as more soldiers filed in, and families spotted their loved ones.
Sgt. Dean Wellman of Westbrook said as he walked in he was searching for his wife, Becki, and their young son, Hayden. “I tried to find her,” Wellman said. “I was just kind of scanning the crowd. Luckily, they were waving their arms frantically.”
Becki Wellman said she was overwhelmed at seeing her husband. “I just lost my breath,” she said. “It was amazing.”