Her own shrieks and tears going unnoticed in the emotional tableau of a warrior's homecoming, Lynn Bierschenk on Saturday night finally welcomed home her Marine husband.
It came in a moment of solitude amidst the jubilant chaos of families reunited at Camp Pendleton.
Ignoring the swarm of hundreds of other wives, children and parents welcoming home nearly 400 Marines, Lynn had searched frantically across the parade grounds for her husband. He managed to sneak up behind her. Touching her on the shoulder, she dissolved into the intimacy of his embrace. "I love you," were his first words. "I love you too," she answered.
Then she and Capt. Monte Bierschenk just stood and clutched each other.
Then he hugged his two young daughters, making good on a promise he had made months earlier in the sands of Saudi Arabia: that he would be home for Samantha's first birthday.
He made it. The party is today.
"This is the best homecoming ever," Monte said. "People in the states have been really good to us over there but it's good to be home."
In a sense, the final wait Saturday night was more frustrating than the previous seven months; families were told to arrive on base by 6:30 p.m. But the chartered 747 plane didn't land at March Air Force Base until 6:10 p.m. And the Marines then drove about 90 minutes to reach Camp Pendleton.
Even with a California Highway Patrol escort, the nine white buses couldn't travel faster than 70 m.p.h. And once on base, the Marines--troops of the First Battalion of the Fifth Marine Regiment--still had to deposit their weapons at the base armory while their familes worked to stay warm in the brisk evening air.
Finally, at 10:15 p.m., the buses arrived, sparking a cacophony of hoots, cheers, and chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"
Bierschenk's two children--5-year-old Jessamie and the 1-year-old--held up well, even if a bottle of milk had long since spilled.
The Bierschenks found their place near the front of the crowd and strained to spot Monte, a helicopter pilot, in a sea of desert cammies. It took seven agonizing minutes.
Unfolding were the closing moments of what had been a long day.
It started early for Lynn, decorating the couple's family home in Oceanside with red, white, blue and yellow balloons and red, white and blue garland over the fireplace with several large signs, including one that read simply, "Welcome Back!"
Helping her was her mother-in-law, Dorothy Paulsen, who arrived here from her Nebraska home earlier in the week to celebrate her granddaughter's first birthday--not realizing she would be here to share in Monte's homecoming.
Even the family aquarium was plastered with two large decals--one of an American flag, the other of a yellow ribbon.
Atop a small hutch was a wilted rose. "I got it the day the war started, Jan. 16," Lynn said. "Since it's still standing in its vase, I haven't wanted to throw it away."
That's not all that has wilted in the house. Lynn admitted that she has cried a lot since her husband left for Saudi Arabia on Aug. 12. He had been home only two days after being gone all of July for training in Virginia.
"I've been breaking out in hives," she said of the anxiety, "but the last time I cried was when I learned the war was over, and that was OK."
On the wall was a striking oil painting drawn by a staff sergeant in Monte's unit, depicting a Cobra helicopter firing two rockets.
Ironically, Monte had been trained as a pilot for the warship, but in July, he was trained to work with ground troops as a forward air controller, working shoulder to shoulder with infantrymen calling in air strikes for support.
"The war breaks out and my husband, a pilot, finds himself on the ground," Lynn said with a laugh.
Outside, the entire street had been bedecked with yellow ribbons, American flags, and welcome-home banners, all for Monte.
In fact, a steady stream of neighbors and telephone calls kept Lynn, her two children and her mother-in-law at home until 5 p.m. They left then, figuring they had plenty of time to get to the base a half-hour away for the scheduled 6:30 p.m. arrival of her husband and 400 fellow Marines.
But traffic slowed to a frustrating crawl at the border patrol checkpoint and the group did not get to the parade grounds until 6:15 p.m.
Lynn, a strawberry blonde, looked resplendent in her navy blue and white dress and black heels. The children were equally dressed to the nines.
They hung onto a bouquet of 10 helium-filled balloons, centered by a balloon that proclaimed, "Monte, I Love U."
"These things are a real nuisance," Lynn laughed, as they continually smacked her in the face.
The group was also armed with confetti and four Hawaiian leis--red, white, blue and yellow. They also held a lime-green sign, "Monte, We're Proud of You," accompanied by a big yellow ribbon.
Awaiting Monte at home were 200 silk-screened T-shirts autographed by the cast of television's "Cheers."
"My husband wrote Operation Homefront about how some of the guys in his unit were not getting packages from home. So they (Operation Homefront) adopted the unit and sent over a ton of packages. One of the Operation Homefront members is a camera guy for 'Cheers' so he arranged for the cast to adopt A Company."
The tan T-shirts have Velcro fasteners on the sleeves so they could be worn as headdresses in Saudi Arabia.
"We intended to send these over to Saudi," Lynn said, and added gleefully, "but now the war is over and we don't have to."