SOUTH BEND — One hug was not enough for Veronica Martin after husband Ben Martin and about 50 fellow U.S. Marine Reservists arrived home Friday afternoon at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in South Bend.
Martin waited with family for more than two hours at the reserve center for her husband — an officer with the Elkhart Police Department — to arrive, ending a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan.
Seconds after the Marines filed into the room and were given the go-ahead, Veronica and their nine-month old son, Clay, embraced Martin with a long, heartfelt hug.
That was followed by more greetings from other family and friends, and then interspersed repeatedly by more hugs and kisses from his wife.
The Osceola couple were high school sweethearts at Penn High School and have been together since he asked her out on her sixteenth birthday more than nine years ago.
The 26-year-old Marine sergeant remained stoic as the reunion continued. That wasn’t the case for his wife, though.
“I can’t stop touching him,” she said, her eyes welling with tears of joy.
Long hugs and deep kisses seemed like a contagion that spread through the facility’s drill deck for several minutes following their return.
The Marines are from Engineer Company B, 6th Engineer Support Battalion and are based in South Bend.
Lance Cpl. Humberto Chavarria of Goshen was also mobbed by family and friends, including his 2-year-old daughter, Sophia.
His father, Oscar Chavarria, who wore his son’s black leather Marine jacket, joined others as they surrounded Chavarria.
The 21-year-old Goshen High School graduate said he was impressed with how many people showed up to salute the troops.
“It means everything,” Chavarria said. “It means everything we did over there was worth it.”
Chavarria’s sister, Margarita, 19, was there, too. She said the separation was difficult. But ultimately, it has made them closer.
“The distance makes you realize,” Margarita said.
The reservists traveled by bus from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to South Bend and were given a police escort from downtown Goshen for the final 27-mile leg of the journey.
Onlookers who heard the distant wail of sirens stepped outside the building and lined a fence as police cars and fire trucks, followed by two tour buses, rolled into the parking lot amid yelps and applause.
Inside, guests waited another 20 or so minutes as luggage was pulled off the buses and members of the military were given their final orders before embarking on a four-day break.
Martin was also greeted by his second family, representatives of the Elkhart Police, including chief Dale Pfllibsen.
Police Sgt. Steve Williams said about a dozen Elkhart officers participated in the escort before some of them headed back to work. He said about eight officers attended the reunion.
Their appearance caught Martin a little off guard.
“I had a lot of support from them while I was over in Afghanistan. Good to see them all again,” Martin said. “I’m ready to get back to work soon.”
Most of the Marines who returned Friday are from 21 counties in northern and central Indiana. A few others are from Michigan and Ohio.
While deployed, the Marines were attached to Combat Logistics Battalion 2 which is based in Camp Lejeune, NC. They departed South Bend in May of last year and spent several weeks conducting training operations in the United States before deploying to Afghanistan.
Williams, the police sergeant, said he was pleased with how many people attended the celebration, estimated by a spokesman for the Marines to be about 150 people.
“It’s a very good turnout,” Williams said. “This is definitely the warm welcome they deserve for coming home from overseas.”