Greeted by a roar of "Welcome home!" and applause, the first contingent of Utah's fighting men returned from the Persian Gulf Thursday.
They were about a score of members of the 2952nd Combat Logistics Support Squadron, based at Hill Air Force Base, who arrived in Salt Lake City aboard a Delta flight. They were stationed for the past seven months in a country not yet officially named, near Iraq.Their job was to repair aircraft damaged in battle and to help prepare other planes for sorties.
In the hour before they came, the waiting area of the Delta concourse filled with about 100 joyous family members toting balloons, banners and flags; a hoard of reporters; the bright lights of TV cameras; Miss Utah; a general; and Air Force public affairs officers.
Allison Alessi, who last saw her husband, Staff Sgt. Michael S. Alessi, on Aug. 7, said, "I'm still waiting to see him come home. I mean, I'll believe it when he gets here - quite a long time."
On Wednesday Michael had telephoned her from the Middle East. "He said he was packing. . . . Then he called this morning, and said, `Today I'm coming home.' "
How did Allison react to that news? "I told him he was lying!"
Kris Breese, wife of Staff Sgt. Dennis Breese, twiddled a small American flag with a yellow ribbon on its staff. Dennis had called her at 7:30 that morning, saying to come pick him up.
"I told him I couldn't - I was still asleep," she laughed. "He said, `No, I'm kidding, I will be in tonight.' "
Wearing a pin that read "G.I. LOVE YOU - Operation Desert Shield," she said she has a favorite meal lined up for Dennis. "I've got some T-bone steaks ready to cook out on the grill when he gets home."
Balloons, in clusters and huge single examples, floated above the family members. A huge one bore the motto, "I love you!" A slightly smaller balloon proclaimed, "Love you."
When the entrance opened and the men started filing in, the crowd shouted its welcome and applauded, continuing to clap as they kept coming. Air Force public affairs officers handed the men sprays of flowers, including yellow roses, that were bound together with yellow ribbons.
The men were bronzed, healthy-looking, beaming, wearing civilian clothes and surprised by the size of their reception. The first man into the airport, Jerry Stiles, hugged his wife, Janice, while a little girl cried for joy, her mouth open.
Asked how he felt to be home, Stiles could only say, "Good, excellent," as he moved along in the crowd. Shouts of "Welcome home! Welcome home!" filled the air, and the clapping continued. Miss Utah Patti Joe Bender asked one of the returnees, "Do I get a hug?" and she did.
"It's just good to be back home," said Dennis Breese. "I was hot, hot and sandy.
He said he was glad and surprised that "we got the job done and got back as quick as we did."
Tech. Sgt. Dave Anderson, standing with his fiancee in a mob of reporters, said, "Just now, my heart's beating so," and that he felt a rush of adrenalin.
Was he surprised about the reception? "I sure am. We had a lot of support over in the theater there. I couldn't believe the mail that was coming in."
At first they had only the essentials, but they received so many packages and letters, that the folks at home made life much more comfortable, he said.
The unit's commander, Lt. Col. Samuel Brown Jr., said he was at headquarters last week and saw a message that had arrived from the field, "that our guys had performed brilliantly."
Staff Sgt. Charles Vigansky, interviewed on the moving sidewalk that conducts passengers toward the baggage claim carousel, said the unit found out Monday that some were to go home. "It was fantastic - just ecstatic. We didn't have any idea" that this would happen so soon.
Asked what he was looking forward to, Vigansky said, "I want to go to Mulboons (a restaurant in Salt Lake City), that's for sure. And just sit back in my house and relax."