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Marine Force Home After Afghan Duty

April 19, 2002|From Associated Press

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — More than 2,000 Marines dispatched to Afghanistan last fall to help hunt down terrorists returned Thursday to American shores, storming the beach in the finest tradition of the Corps.

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit was the first military unit to leave the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks. The unit seized the Kandahar airport, reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, searched caves and helped build a prison for enemy prisoners.

In February, the unit handed over security of southern Afghanistan to the Army.

"People who say American kids aren't tough haven't seen these guys," said Lt. Col. Jerome Lynes, battalion commander of the Marine unit's infantry battalion.

Most of the Marines returned by crashing the base's Onslow Beach in landing craft from their ships--the Bataan and the Whidbey Island. They were then brought to their barracks aboard buses.

Families and girlfriends waved welcome signs and American flags as the buses pulled up.

"It was like winning $1 million," said a tearful Lisa Hart, wife of Sgt. Derek Hart, after their first hug. "We're going to go home and lock the doors, make food and watch movies. I'm going to pamper him. Whatever he wants, he gets."

Thursday's homecoming marked the first time Sgt. Justin Baker of Holland, N.Y., had seen his 2-month-old baby girl.

"I can't explain it," Baker said after picking up the infant. "The feeling was amazing."

Meanwhile, in Savannah, Ga., soldiers of the 1st Ranger Battalion joined the families of their three fallen comrades for a memorial service.

Sgt. Bradley S. Crose, Spc. Marc A. Anderson and Cpl. Matthew A. Commons were killed March 4 in Afghanistan while trying to save a Navy SEAL.

More than 600 Army Rangers in dress uniform, along with the parents, siblings and grandparents of the dead, filled the pews.

The three Rangers' helmets, rifles and combat boots stood like makeshift crosses at the altar. A silence was followed by a salute of gunfire from outside the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah.

They had been stationed at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah. Funerals were held in March, but a memorial was delayed until their comrades returned home.

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