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‘My Daddy Is a Hero’ : They’re Not Just More Returning Warriors to the Crowd at Point Mugu

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A crowd of friends and relatives braved chill winds early Friday to greet the second group of Ventura County troops to return home from the war in the Persian Gulf.

More than 200 Seabees were welcomed with screams, hugs and tears when they disembarked from a chartered 747 at Point Mugu naval airstrip at 7:55 a.m.

In addition, 10 Marines and 140 Navy medical corpsmen from Camp Pendleton arrived on the flight and immediately boarded a bus to Camp Pendleton.

“It’s fun to come back to such a crowd, and the welcome is very heart-lifting,” said Daniel Rightnour, a Seabee builder who said he had been concerned by news of anti-war sentiment. “It’s always been in the back of my mind that there might be displeasure at what we did.”

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But it was appreciation that a crowd of about 300 people waiting at Point Mugu--where the temperature was about 48 degrees--showered on members of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40. Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ventura) was also on hand to greet the men.

Another 500 people lined the road leading to the main entrance of the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme, waiting for a chance to wave their flags and shake hands with the troops.

Some who had been waiting outside the base since 4 a.m. said they just wanted to show their support for the battalion, which was deployed to Guam in August before being sent to Saudi Arabia in September.

The Seabee engineers and construction teams have built reinforced tents, hospitals, runways and other facilities for Marines stationed in Saudi Arabia. At one time during the Gulf crisis, 1,800 Seabees from Port Hueneme were serving in the region.

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A group of 15 Seabees from Underwater Construction Team 2 may come back later this month. And 600 more Seabees are expected to return in April, officials said. A detachment of 370 Seabees from Battalion 40 returned to wildly enthusiastic crowds on Wednesday.

On Friday, many people at the Point Mugu airstrip said they started waiting at 5 a.m. for the plane, which was due in about 5:45 a.m. But it was delayed almost two hours because it had to be de-iced at a stopover at Kennedy International in New York City, officials said.

Rightnour’s three children were up at 2 a.m. and ready to head for Point Mugu from their Camarillo home, fearful of missing their father’s arrival, said their grandmother, Norma German, 62.

The children had been up the night before, decorating their house with yellow balloons and making signs that proclaimed, “My Daddy Is a Hero,” which they flashed during the long wait.

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Others waiting also contributed to the festive air by carrying homemade signs, bedecking themselves in yellow ribbons and shooting home movies of the event.

Bundled in parkas and jeans, many in the crowd mentioned that their hands were cold and their feet were numb. But thoughts of the cold seemed to disappear as the America West plane came into sight.

Mothers hoisted their children onto their shoulders and others climbed onto folding chairs to catch a glimpse through the crowd as the Seabees left the plane.

Five-year-old Sara McGurn began to cry with the excitement of seeing her father, and her mother, Joan, paced with anticipation.

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“They’re coming. They’re coming,” she said anxiously. “It’s about time. God I can’t wait. He’s late. He was supposed to be due here.”

It took the men, who had been flying for about 25 hours, only minutes to spot their relatives and melt into the crowd on the Tarmac.

U.S. Marine Sgt. Vince Mullett, who serves as a military adviser to the Seabees, beamed as he embraced his wife, Cheryl, and his children, Stephanie, 11, and Tristi, 12.

“It’s great, it’s great,” he said. “I’ve missed them.”

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Others, not expecting to find family there, were surprised by relatives who had traveled miles to make their homecomings special.

Randy Cramer, 21, said he could not believe it when he bumped into his mother, Kathy Madsen, 42, of Washington and his sister and brother-in-law, who live in Oregon.

“I came walking across and they came from nowhere,” he said. “I was just so surprised.”

Madsen, who traveled 16 hours by train to meet her son, said she and the family would stay in Ventura County for a few days before taking Cramer home, where he plans to see friends during a two-week leave.

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Other officers also talked excitedly about their plans for the next several days: taking long baths, munching on nachos and treating themselves to prime rib dinners.

But one thought prevailed when the men and their families discussed what they expected from the immediate future. Said Dawn Schachte, gazing at her two children and newly returned husband, David: “We’re just going to go home and be a family.”


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