BRUNSWICK, Maine — Susan Donahue and Lisa Tenaglia had never met in person, but they knew just how the other felt.
Their sons, U.S. Marines, were coming home from Afghanistan after their first tour of duty.
“It’s like being 5 and waiting for Santa Claus for the first time in your life,” Donahue said two hours before her son, Christopher Donahue, would step off a bus in Brunswick to greet an expectant crowd of hundreds of family members and friends.
Approximately 130 Marines from Company A, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division returned home Wednesday after three months of training in California and seven months of counterinsurgency and security operations in Afghanistan.
Inside a new Marine Corps Reserve Training Center at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station on Wednesday night, anticipation was building around 6 p.m., as 1st Sgt. Timothy Bunnell announced that the company had arrived in Portland.
But that wasn’t news to Kristin Crowley of Bath, who awaited her returning husband, John Crowley Jr.
“I got a text from him saying they’re loading the buses,” Crowley said, “so I’m getting anxious.”
John Crowley Jr. was returning from his first tour of duty.
For months, Skype and Facebook had been the only means of communication with her husband, Crowley said, which brings with it some uncertainty.
“You don’t know what they’ve been through,” Crowley said, “and all you can do is try to be supportive and see what each day brings.”
Support for the troops was evident Wednesday night, as was the particular bond between Marines.
“There’s no such thing as an ex-Marine,” Bath native and Korean War veteran Bud Quinn said. “We’re former active-duty Marines.”
Quinn was joined Wednesday night by a group from the Marine Corps League, a nationwide veterans organization for Marines.
The welcome Wednesday was unlike what veterans of Quinn’s era and the Vietnam era received and that, he said, “is nice for us to see.”
As the buses approached, those veterans gathered with family and friends to greet the troops. Just before the arrival, a din of excitement and strains of “God Bless America” wavered through the air.
“It’s not really real to me yet,” said Brenda Dyer of Madison.
Dyer and 18 family members were awaiting the arrival of her son, Craig Dyer, Wednesday.
“Words escape me at times like this,” said Wayne Dyer, Craig’s father. “I’m proud of him.”
On Wednesday morning, Dyer said she took off the last link of a paper chain to tally the days until her son’s return.
For Donahue, she said the day was even more emotional than her son’s deployment.
“Because it could have gone so many different ways,” Donahue said.
That experience, Donahue said, gave her a new perspective and a new understanding for what it’s like to have a loved one potentially in harm’s way, every day.
Waiting in Brunswick, Donahue continued to meet parents she had only spoken with online, but she said that over the course of her son’s deployment she formed a broader bond and deeper sympathy for other parents who still have children serving overseas.
“For me, I’m connected to these people for the rest of my life,” Donahue said. “As my son feels for the guys he left behind, I feel for these moms.”
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