Laughter, Tears And Kisses As Marines Come Home

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  • Kerry Michaud and his nephew Phoenix, 3, wait for the boy's father inside a gymnasium at Camp Lejeune, N.C.  Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment have been returning home from Afghanistan over the past few weeks.
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    Kerry Michaud and his nephew Phoenix, 3, wait for the boy's father inside a gymnasium at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment have been returning home from Afghanistan over the past few weeks.
    Jeff Janowski for NPR
  • A sign on the side of Echo Company's barracks heralds the men's return.
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    A sign on the side of Echo Company's barracks heralds the men's return.
    John Poole/NPR
  • George "Mick" Todd serves a hot dog to Tom Apsey as they wait for the return of Tom's son, Lance Cpl. Josh Apsey, on Nov. 17.
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    George "Mick" Todd serves a hot dog to Tom Apsey as they wait for the return of Tom's son, Lance Cpl. Josh Apsey, on Nov. 17.
    John Poole/NPR
  • As the expected arrival time of the buses is pushed back, family and friends wait outside a gymnasium at Camp Lejeune on Nov. 14.
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    As the expected arrival time of the buses is pushed back, family and friends wait outside a gymnasium at Camp Lejeune on Nov. 14.
    Jeff Janowski for NPR
  • Delma Posey, the mother of Lance Cpl. Gregory Posey who died in action in July, hugs her son's friend, Navy medic Richie Greene, while waiting for the buses to arrive. Posey came to support the soldiers of Golf Company despite the fact that her son did not return with them.
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    Delma Posey, the mother of Lance Cpl. Gregory Posey who died in action in July, hugs her son's friend, Navy medic Richie Greene, while waiting for the buses to arrive. Posey came to support the soldiers of Golf Company despite the fact that her son did not return with them.
    Jeff Janowski for NPR
  • The bags arrive before the buses, and Marines help sort through the belongings.
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    The bags arrive before the buses, and Marines help sort through the belongings.
    Jeff Janowski for NPR
  • The buses finally arrive to cheers and shouts.
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    The buses finally arrive to cheers and shouts.
    John Poole/NPR
  • Lt. Brandon Currie of 1st Platoon, Golf Company finds the loving arms of his wife, Lynne, and 1-year-old son, Carson, as he steps off the bus on Nov. 14.
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    Lt. Brandon Currie of 1st Platoon, Golf Company finds the loving arms of his wife, Lynne, and 1-year-old son, Carson, as he steps off the bus on Nov. 14.
    Jeff Janowski for NPR
  • There are echoes of "I love you" from throughout Camp Lejeune as couples and families are reunited.
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    There are echoes of "I love you" from throughout Camp Lejeune as couples and families are reunited.
    John Poole/NPR
  • As more Marines arrive, family members storm the buses.
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    As more Marines arrive, family members storm the buses.
    John Poole/NPR
  • First Lt. Nick Bourgeois of 1st Platoon, Golf Company gives his 2-year-old son Schriever a piggyback ride while his wife, Miranda, pushes their 3-month-old David in a stroller after reuniting at Camp Lejeune on Nov. 14.
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    First Lt. Nick Bourgeois of 1st Platoon, Golf Company gives his 2-year-old son Schriever a piggyback ride while his wife, Miranda, pushes their 3-month-old David in a stroller after reuniting at Camp Lejeune on Nov. 14.
    Jeff Janowski for NPR
  • For the men of "American's Battalion," the homecoming is bitttersweet. Thirteen of the Marines died in Afghanistan.
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    For the men of "American's Battalion," the homecoming is bitttersweet. Thirteen of the Marines died in Afghanistan.

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Marines returning from war arrive hundreds at a time, day after day, crammed into buses taking them back to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

For the men of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment — known as "America's Battalion" — the homecoming is bittersweet. Not all of them made it back from their six-month deployment: Thirteen of the Marines died in Afghanistan.

But as their families gather to await their arrival on a recent day, the excitement builds. The Apsey family of Brandon, Fla., who said goodbye to their son back in May, are eager to welcome Lance Cpl. Josh Apsey home. Apsey turned 19 during his deployment.

"I know I'm going to be welcoming back — instead of my little boy that got on that bus — my young man, my hero that I'm extremely proud of, so I just can't wait," says Apsey's father, Tom.

But he has to wait — the buses have been delayed. Tom and his wife, Vicki, have been waiting for hours. It hasn't dampened their spirits.

"We are very ecstatic, excited, anxious," Vicki says.

Steve Posey (left) stands stoic as his wife, Delma, breaks down. i i

Steve Posey (left), father of Lance Cpl. Gregory Posey, who died in combat, stands stoic as the buses arrive bringing his son's company back to Camp Lejeune. His wife, Delma, breaks down in the arms of a friend. Jeff Janowski for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jeff Janowski for NPR
Steve Posey (left) stands stoic as his wife, Delma, breaks down.

Steve Posey (left), father of Lance Cpl. Gregory Posey, who died in combat, stands stoic as the buses arrive bringing his son's company back to Camp Lejeune. His wife, Delma, breaks down in the arms of a friend.

Jeff Janowski for NPR

The Arrival

The afternoon turns to night — and still no Marines. But their bags arrive.

The Apseys comb through the sea of olive green duffle bags until they find their son's bags. Then they go back to wait for the buses. They're standing exactly where they waited to send Josh off six months ago. But they're in a very different place.

"We were talking the other day that we actually feel like we've kind of aged during this process," Tom says.

"I have a few more wrinkles and a little bit more gray hair," Vicki adds. "And I've put on a little bit of extra weight. ... Gosh, you know, we've earned that, I guess, as parents, you know, really being concerned for our son."

Finally, after a five-hour delay, the buses start pulling up.

It's chaos as everyone storms the buses. Across the crowd, the Apseys find their son, grab him and give him a hug.

"I love you," Vicki tells her son, crying and kissing him.

It's a scene that plays out again and again that night.

Families Left Waiting

On another day, there's another homecoming — more families waiting for their moment.

"It's exciting, isn't it?" says Jim Diepenbruck of Ohio, the parent coordinator for the battalion. "It's giddy, you know, and it's really the fun time."

Diepenbruck spent this deployment taking care of the parents of this battalion, keeping them informed — even attending funerals. He has been divided all these months between worrying about his own son, Darren, and worrying about everybody else.

"Maybe I'll be totally Darren's dad when all the companies come in, and I see all the families with their Marines and their sailors," he says.

But not every family is going to see their Marine. The unit coming home on this day was the hardest hit.

Two families of Marines who died are here. Steve Posey is among them. He's wearing a button with a photo of his son, Lance Cpl. Gregory Posey, of Knoxville, Tenn., who was 22 years old when he died in July. His dad remembers him as a lovable prankster.

"He would loan out anything, sometimes even if it didn't belong to him," Posey says. "He had a good heart."

Posey's son loved being a Marine. That's why the family is here.

"We had planned on being here. We're sticking to our plan," he says, fighting back tears. "These guys meant a lot to us, so we're here for them."

'Just Let Us Go Home'

Diepenbruck has been checking in on the Poseys all night. There's nothing he can do for them now. And, after hours of waiting, the buses start rolling in.

Families rush to meet them, but the Poseys stay right where they are, huddled, sobbing.

"This has got to be so tough for them," Diepenbruck says, glancing back, worried for the Poseys. But he has to go.

He crosses the street to join his wife and greet his son. The Diepenbrucks hug — and start catching up.

"We got delayed, delayed, delayed. It's like ... 'just let us go home, please,' " Darren says.

Now they are home — most of them.

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