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Mass. National Guard Unit Makes Emotional Return Home04:30
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One hundred and sixty Massachusetts soldiers are home after a year in Afghanistan. The Massachusetts National Guard’s 379th Engineering Company returned to loved ones in Reading, in Pittsfield and in Bourne, where 13-year-old Ashley Deucey came from Marshfield to greet her dad.

“Friday’s vacation, and he’s bringing me skiing,” she says.

Deucey lives with her grandmother. Her dad is thinking about going back to Afghanistan as a civilian, because the money’s good.

Lots Of Care Packages

In the Bourne armory, Maureen Pert, from Brockton, waits for her son, Richard, who just turned 22. This was his first tour in Afghanistan. It’s been a year of anxiety for his mother.

“Frightening, frightening, most times,” Pert says, “especially when you wouldn’t hear from them, and then you see on the news that there was somebody killed, or injuries or stuff like that, and you wouldn’t know who it was.”

Sgt. Chris Mutrie, 28, of Barnstable, just back from his first deployment, talks to his parents at the National Guard Armory in Bourne. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
Sgt. Chris Mutrie, 28, of Barnstable, just back from his first deployment, talks to his parents at the National Guard Armory in Bourne. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

In the past six months, Pert has not had a lot of contact with her son.

“You might hear every couple of weeks,” she says, “and it might be a quick phone call, might be a quick chat on Facebook, ‘Gotta go.’ ”

Pert says she and her husband, Ed, had no idea where in Afghanistan their son was; he wouldn’t tell.

“A lot of care packages,” Maureen Pert says. “Lots of care packages.”

“Let’s put it this way,” Ed Pert says, "he’s coming home with a lot of bags full of products that she sent.”

“He was going to take up guitar lessons,” Maureen Pert says, "cause one of the guys did guitar, so I sent a guitar over there. What else did I send?”

“You sent everything,” her husband replies.

"The sheets,” Maureen Pert says. “I kept saying to him, ‘Did you change the sheets?' 'No, Ma, I’ve hardly slept in the bed.’ ”

"Typical mother, taking care of her baby,” Ed Pert says.

The Perts’ son has just re-enlisted, so he could be deployed again. Maureen is not optimistic about the war in Afghanistan.

“It’s a losing battle at this point,” she says. “I don’t know what they’re going to do. I really don’t. I can’t imagine we’ll be out of there by July, and if we are, why are you still sending people over there? They just had guys from Reading deployed. I’m just glad he’s out of it, so…”

She laughs nervously. She last saw her son at the end of August, when he was home for a 15-day leave.

Tears Meet Broad Smiles

Sgt. First Class Fred Somers takes a picture with his mother, Lisa Williams. Somers is returning from his third deployment with a Bronze Star. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
Sgt. First Class Fred Somers takes a picture with his mother, Lisa Williams. Somers is returning from his third deployment with a Bronze Star. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

In the middle of the armory, Pat Travers, from Taunton, is waiting in a scooter.

"I’m waiting for all of them,” Travers says. ”My daughter belongs in this group, but she got hurt over in Afghanistan. She’s at Walter Reed Medical Center in [Washington] D.C. She’s been there since she got hit Aug. 3. They were driving one of those new trucks. She still has most surgeries to go through; her eye, a lot of cosmetic surgery has to be done, but she’s in good spirits.”

Travers says it helps her to see all the men and women who served with her daughter in the past seven years. Her daughter, Bree, is 30. She just got married at Walter Reed. Travers last saw her at Thanksgiving and doesn’t anticipate their next reunion until summer.

Slowly, people file out to the front of the armory. Yellow ribbons are tied around the portico’s columns. People hold American flags and cups of coffee. They move up to the road. Some carry flowers. One woman steps gingerly on the ice in her high heels.

As the bus comes into view, cheers break out.

And as the doors open, screams of joy fill the parking lot. Tears meet broad smiles.

“Here he is!” shouts one boy.

Four kids hold up a sign saying: “Welcome Home. We love you, Dad.”

“This is him!” Maureen Pert shouts.” Richie! Rich!” Pert has just found her son.

“I’m happy to be back!” Richard Pert says. “It’s amazing to be back. Scared I wasn’t going to come back for a while, but I’m good now.”

Richard Pert says he’s looking forward to riding his bike. Another soldier tells his family he learned to play hearts and spades while he was deployed. People look for one another in the crowd and the happy din of reunion. It’s a big, confusing scene.

This program aired on February 17, 2011.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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