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As we await word of a troop buildup in Afghanistan, some Marines are returning from war. Everyday, hundreds of members of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment arrive back in the U.S. They cram into buses, headed for Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. It's a bittersweet homecoming. Thirteen in the battalion died in Afghanistan. NPR has been following the 2/8th throughout their deployments. Back in May, we met Lance Corporal Josh Apsey and his family as he was preparing to ship out.

The other day, Catherine Welch of member station WHQR was with Apsey's parents as they welcomed him home.

(Soundbite of crowd)

CATHERINE WELCH: Josh Apsey turned 19 during the deployment. His father, Tom, knows the boy he sent to war will return a combat veteran.

Mr. TOM APSEY: And 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.

WELCH: But he has to wait. The buses have been delayed. Tom and his wife, Vicki, have been here for hours. It hasn't dampened their spirits.

Ms. VICKI APSEY: We are very ecstatic, excited, anxious.

Mr. APSEY: Can't believe it's almost here.

Ms. APSEY: Yeah. It's definitely, definitely so.

WELCH: The afternoon turns to night, and still no Marines. But their bags arrive.

Mr. APSEY: Be careful with that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WELCH: The Apseys comb through the slew of olive green duffle bags.

Mr. APSEY: We found two so far. Johnson, Baker, just went out on that (unintelligible).

WELCH: They grab their son's bag and 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.

Mr. APSEY: We were talking the other day that we actually feel like we've kind of aged during this process.

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

(Soundbite of cheering)

WELCH: And finally, after a five-hour delay, the buses start pulling up.

(Soundbite of cheering)

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

(Soundbite of sobbing)

Lance Corporal JOSH APSEY (U.S. Marines): I'm home. I'm home.

(Soundbite of cheering)

WELCH: It's a scene that plays out again and again that night. On another day, there's another homecoming � more families waiting for their moment.

Mr. JIM DIEPENBRUCK (Parent Coordinator, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment): It's exciting, isn't it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. J. DIEPENBRUCK: Yeah, it's giddy, you know, and it's really the fun time.

WELCH: That's Jim Diepenbruck. He is the parent coordinator and he 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.

Mr. J. DIEPENBRUCK: 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.

WELCH: But not every family is going to see their Marine. The unit coming home on this day was the hardest hit. And two families of Marines who died are here. There is something about watching the doors close and the buses leave. Steve Posey is one of them. He's wearing a button with a photo of his son, Lance Corporal Gregory Posey. He was 22 years old when he died in July. His dad remembers him as a lovable prankster.

Mr. STEVE POSEY: He would loan out anything, sometimes even if it didn't belong to him. He had a good heart.

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

Mr. POSEY: We had planned on being here. We're sticking to our plan.

WELCH: He fights back tears.

Mr. POSEY: These guys meant a lot to us, so we're here for them.

WELCH: Diepenbruck has been checking in on the Poseys all night. There's nothing he can do for them now. And finally, after hours of waiting, the buses start rolling in. Families rush to meet them, but the Posey family stays right where they are, huddled, sobbing.

(Soundbite of sobbing)

(Soundbite of crowd)

Mr. J. DIEPENBRUCK: This just has to be so tough for them.

(Soundbite of cheering)

WELCH: Diepenbruck glances back, worrying for the Poseys. But he has to go.

(Soundbite of whistling)

(Soundbite of applause)

WELCH: He crosses the street to join his wife and greet his son.

Mr. J. DIEPENBRUCK: Here we go.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Woman: Hey. Hi sweetheart.

Mr. DARREN DIEPENBRUCK (U.S. Marines): How are you doing?

Unidentified Woman: Oh, I'm good.

Mr. D. DIEPENBRUCK: Nice to see you guys.

Mr. J. DIEPENBRUCK: Oh man, good to see you.

Mr. D. DIEPENBRUCK: Yeah.

WELCH: The Diepenbrucks hug and start catching up.

Mr. D. DIEPENBRUCK: We got delayed, delayed, delayed. It's like ridiculous, right. And we were just like, let us go home, please.

WELCH: Now they are home, most of them.

For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch.

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