Having spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, which included seven months serving in Afghanistan, 22-year-old U.S. Marine Cpl. Tom Lohnes Saturday got a surprise welcome home parade complete with New Lenox Police and New Lenox Fire Protection District escort to a party at the American Legion Post 1977.
Lohnes, a 2008 graduate of Lincoln-Way Central High School, was met by family and friends along with a committed group of Soldiers Guardian Angels, the Warrior Watch Riders and the Joliet Marine Corps League. The parade organizer, Tony Marmo of the Soldiers Guardian Angels was the first to formerly welcome the soldier home.
The nippy 30 degree temperature failed to keep a crowd of patriots, family and friends away from the designated rally spot in the parking lot at Kmart. Lohnes, who pulled into New Lenox yesterday, seemed quietly surprised by the hero's welcome he received. Looking around at the crowd, receiving hugs and hearty handshakes—some from people he'd never met—he said he was "glad to be home."
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When asked what he missed most while serving his country, he smiled and with outstretched arms drank in the love and support of his family. "Them." he said, "and pretty much everybody here."
Enlisting in the Marines straight out of high school, he followed in the footsteps of previous generations of Lohnes. His great grandfather was in the U.S. Navy and his grandfather was in the U.S. Army.
His mom, Melissa Byrne, Tom Byrne, the step-father who raised him, his 9-year-brother and aunt, wore proud smiles as the hero received the kind of patriotic welcome afforded those who risked their lives, while fighting for our country.
Steve Evoy, 23, who grew up with Lohnes arrived early for the parade. "He was just a crazy kid. He wasn't scared of anything. He always talked about getting out of here and seeing the world, and he did."
Most of Lohnes' tour of duty was spent at Camp Pendleton, CA, where he worked as a mechanic. However, those seven months while he was in Afghanistan were difficult for his mother. "I watched the news all the time."
Dan Seguin, Lohnes' best friend, stood shivering in the parking lot with a grin on his face and his hands in his pockets. The welcome parade had been a secret that he'd kept for several days. Seguin flew out to California earlier in the week so Lohnes, who'd planned to drive home, wouldn't have to be alone. Seguin got his friend to the rallying point too.
Lohnes said he was at Seguin's house and left with him believing they'd be going out to a bar.
The flag line at the American Legion
Members of American Legion Post 1977, friends and community officials, including Mayor Tim Baldermann, formed the flag line that greeted the special escort. Once inside, formerly dressed members of the American Legion greeted and saluted the Marine, who has plans to attend Universal Technical Institute in Chicago to continue his education in automotive mechanics.
A handful of tender accolades and supportive comments from Baldermann, Will County Board Member Tom Weigel of New Lenox, Marmo, the Joliet Marine Corps League, the American Legion and more, Lohnes simply said he enjoyed serving his country. "I'd do it again."
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