An Island soldier comes home
The misty rain that fell Tuesday night did nothing to dampen the heartfelt welcome from Islanders who turned out to greet 1st Sergeant Richard Monaco at the Steamship Authority dock as he returned home from a year in Iraq.
As the returning soldier and his family drove off the Islander that arrived at 7 pm in Vineyard Haven, a color guard from the town's American Legion Post 257 stood at attention. Emergency vehicles from Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and West Tisbury that were parked near the dock greeted Sergeant Monaco with lights flashing, horns honking, and sirens wailing.
An ecstatic crowd cheered and waved flags. Family, friends, and Tisbury volunteer firefighters he used to work with enveloped him in hugs as soon as he stepped out of his car. Even some of the ferry passengers waiting for the next boat joined in congratulating him.
Sergeant Richard Monaco is wrapped in a joyful hug from family friend Donna Swartwood in celebration of his return home from Iraq Tuesday night. Photos by Janet Hefler
After making it a point to walk over and thank Mr. Monaco for his service to his country, one man turned to his young son and told him, "I want you to shake this man's hand, because he's a hero."
Since last August, Sergeant Monaco served with other members of a Massachusetts-based reserve unit in the 220th Transportation Company stationed at Balad Air Base, and Al Asad Air Base in Iraq. They conducted numerous fuel transport and convoy security missions, as well as hauling over 8,000 tons of bulk materials.
Conditions were rugged. The desert heat ranged from 104 degrees up to 120 degrees, and when sandstorms hit, Mr. Monaco said the flying sand felt like particles of glass when it hit his skin.
Putting all that aside, he said the main thing that matters is, "One hundred seventy-nine of us went, and one-hundred seventy-nine of us came back."
Last Friday, Sergeant Monaco and the other members of his unit flew from Germany to Camp Atterbury near Indianapolis, where the transportation company is based. Their flight lasted 23 hours, because their plane lost an engine early in the flight, and they had to return to Germany.
Once they arrived in Indiana, the Massachusetts soldiers still faced an 18-hour bus ride to Boston. Senator Edward M. Kennedy and the soldiers' families protested about the transportation arrangements to Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey, who ordered the Army to provide a charter flight instead, which arrived in Boston Tuesday.
Their family reunited after a year apart, Felicia, Muriel and Sergeant Richard Monaco (left to right) share smiles all around.
The greeting party at the Steamship Terminal, which his wife Muriel helped arrange, caught Sergeant Monaco by surprise. Looking at the crowd gathered around him, he said, "I couldn't have done it if it wasn't for all of the folks here who supported me." His daughter Felicia, age 12, stood close by his side with one arm around him, giving him a hug from time to time.
When asked what he would like to do now that he will be back home in Oak Bluffs, Sergeant Monaco replied, "Just to rest. We ran missions after missions on very little sleep."
Reflecting on his time in Iraq, he said, "We did a good job. I think we're over there for a good reason. I feel bad we can't help the people more."
With the Monaco family reunited, yesterday it was back to work for Ms. Monaco at her job at Martha's Vineyard Hospital. Felicia heads back to Oak Bluffs School next week.
Admitting he is not one to sit around, Mr. Monaco plans to return to his job at Island Tire and Auto Service in Tisbury soon. He said his boss Alan Wilson, who owns the company, and Melissa Gold, the manager, were very supportive of both him and his family while he was away, in addition to many friends.
Sergeant Monaco has served in the U.S. Army Reserves for almost 27 years, and has two years left in his commitment. He said he has enjoyed living a dual life as both a civilian and a soldier.