CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina (AP) – John Prazynski stood in the sea of welcome home signs and wondered why he was there.
Prazynski’s son, Lance Cpl. Taylor Prazynski, wasn’t going to be among the 900 Marines from the 3rd Battalion who arrived home Sunday. Taylor Prazynski, 20, was killed May 9 from an insurgent mortar shell.
But his father had promised his son he would attend the homecoming, so he rode his Harley Davidson more than 650 miles from Hamilton, Ohio, to Camp Lejeune.
“I don’t have any sort of agenda. I guess I want to thank his brothers for being there for him, and thank his friends for being his friends,” Prazynski said.
The 900 Marines had spent seven months in Anbar Province, the most dangerous territory for U.S. troops in Iraq. It was there that the unit lost nine Marines, killed in action, and about 150 were wounded. That’s odds of one in six of being wounded, one in 100 of being killed.
As late as last week, Prazynski was thinking about staying home so as not to turn a happy occasion somber for the other Marines and their families. But Taylor Prazynski’s company commander had called and told him that he should be there.
So about 8:15 p.m. Sunday, when a cheer went up from the crowd and it surged forward, Prazynski hung back.
“These Marines walking around, I’ve done a double-take three or four times,” he said. “The build is the same …”
A woman whose son is in Lima Company ran up to him.
“They’re here,” she said. “They’re here.”
He followed her into the middle of the crowd where a half-dozen Marines were hugging family members. He waited, and then someone told the Marines who he was. One after another, they stepped forward to embrace him.
“Your son lifted us,” said Taylor Prazynski’s squad leader, Sgt. Craig Corsi. “He was an awesome, awesome Marine.”
Prazynski’s soft voice faded with emotion.
“I appreciate you guys, and what you did.”