BANGOR, Maine — Any day American troops come home from a war zone is a holiday, but coming home on Thanksgiving Day made it especially meaningful for the 241 Marines who landed at Bangor International Airport about 11 a.m. Thursday.
For Cpl. Richard Korhonen, landing in Maine truly felt like coming home after seven months in Afghanistan.
Korhonen’s in-laws, Bill Gates, 52, and Sharon Gates, 53, and his brother-in-law, Travis Gates, 18, all of Peru, greeted him with wide arms and bear hugs as he entered the terminal.
“It feels good to be home,” Korhonen said. “Today, I’m thankful to be home.”
Korhonen, who grew up in Rumford, and his fellow Marines were expected to arrive at Camp Lejuene, N.C., in time for late afternoon Thanksgiving dinners with their families. The group arrived in Bangor about 30 hours after leaving Afghanistan, he said.
The Marines belong to the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, part of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade. During its deployment in the Helmand province in southwestern Afghanistan, the battalion conducted security patrols and counter-insurgency missions, according to information on the battalion’s Web site.
Helmand is one of the world’s largest opium-producing regions, according to U.S. Aid for International Development, an agency which, according to its Web site, is helping “Afghanistan and its people to build a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic state.”
The battalion returned from a deployment in Iraq in Spring 2008 and spent just 11 months stateside before heading overseas again.
Korhonen said that his fellow Marines had told him when they stopped in Bangor 18 months ago how much they appreciated the welcome from the Maine Troop Greeters.
About 24 of them turned out Thursday before they headed home or to restaurants for their own Thanksgiving Day meals.
“If I was with my family in Peru right now,” Korhonen said shortly after 11 a.m., “we’d be getting ready to eat some snacks and watch some football.”
The Gates and Korhonen families expected to be reunited in western Maine for Christmas.
Capt. Korvin Kraics, 33, scratched Bri, an 11-year-old service dog, behind the ears as the Labrador retriever welcomed soldiers at BIA. The dog, owned by Ruth Merrill, 79, of Hampden, came to the airport from Eastern Maine Medical Center, where she also works as a therapy dog.
“She loves it,” Merrill said. “She snuggles up to the males and bats her eyes at the females. She’s a comforter.”
Kraics said he hadn’t expected to be greeted by a dog, but he was glad to see her.
“My dog passed away while I was deployed,” the native of Los Angeles said. “He was a mix of golden retriever and chow. I got him in 1996.”
Kraics, whose Hungarian name is pronounced Krace, is an attorney. He said that his wife and 19-month-old daughter were waiting for him at Camp Lejeune with a turkey in the oven.
Cpl. Donald Conner, a native of St. Louis, Mo., said his dad would be waiting for him in North Carolina. The two planned to go out to dinner together if they could find a restaurant that was open, he said.
“My dad said that he’d rather have a steak with me than turkey with anybody else,” Conner said. “Coming home is great. Coming home on Thanksgiving is definitely a bonus.”