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Sailors, Marines return from Haiti

When the USS Bataan returns to its homeport in Norfolk on Saturday, Chief Warrant Officer Wilfrid Bossous will be one of about 1,000 sailors returning home.

Unlike the other sailors and Marines on that ship who spent the past two and a half months or so on a humanitarian mission to Haiti, Bossous also left home when the ship sailed from Haitian waters.

Bossous immigrated to the United States in 1984 at the age of 14. When the Bataan arrived in Haiti in support of Operation Unified Response, it was the first time he had been to his native country since 1994.

The earthquake that ravaged the country on Jan. 12 left it a different place than he remembered.

“We’ve seen a lot of the devastation,” he said Friday while standing on the flight deck of the Bataan as it prepared to get underway for Norfolk. “It’s nothing like what we had imagined.”

Still, the Churchland resident said, “It could have been worse, as far as the lives lost.”

That’s a big statement from a man who lost 10 of 20 known family members.

But he remains thankful that God intervened in the midst of the destruction.

“There were certain buildings down with no life lost,” he said. “That’s just God. We are counting our blessings.”

One personal blessing for Bossous was the opportunity to reconnect with family members in Haiti, even under the tragic circumstances that brought him to Haiti.

His parents had both come to America with him, and his father still lives in New York, though his mother has died. But he had not seen his family in Haiti for 24 years, he said.

“They were ecstatic,” he said, recalling the reaction of one of his aunts, “a 74-year-old woman jumping up and down.”

Bossous’ story is just one of a couple of thousand that could be told by the 1,100 sailors and 1,300 Marines (members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit) who call the Bataan home when it’s at sea.

The ship had been in port for just a bit more than a month when the Navy sent word that it would be part of the humanitarian effort to help Haitians get back on their feet after the earthquake.

“You never know when you’re going to get called off the bench to do what you did,” Koehler told his crew during an all-hands call prior to leaving port at Morehead City, N.C. for the last leg of the trip home on Friday.

“What you did in Haiti was true greatness that comes from giving of yourselves,” said Capt. Thomas Megus, commander of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group. “Thousands and thousands of people are alive because of you.”