A warm homecoming for returning serviceman

Published 10:38 pm Monday, September 24, 2012

Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Elliott, left, with his wife Virginia, got a warm welcome from his Riverview neighborhood when he returned from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan on Sunday.

After six months away from home, Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Elliott was expecting a warm reception from his wife, Virginia, and three children when he arrived back in Suffolk from Afghanistan on Sunday.

But he had no idea the entire neighborhood was waiting on him until his wife made the turn onto North Broad Street.

Lining the roads in the Riverview neighborhood were hundreds of American flags stuck into the grass lawns. Trees and posts were adorned with yellow ribbons. Flagpoles that normally hold college football flags were flying the Stars and Stripes instead. Yards were dotted with homemade signs thanking Elliott for his service.

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But the biggest surprise came as they turned onto Jones Street. A group of about 20 kids and their parents was waiting, dressed in patriotic colors. The kids on their bicycles formed a motorcade to escort the Elliotts all the way to their driveway.

“I was stunned,” said Elliott, who has been in the Air Force for 23 years and served deployments in Somalia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, among others. “I’ve never come home to anything like that before.”

Virginia Elliott said the neighborhood had a going-away celebration for her husband when he went overseas and didn’t hesitate to pull out all the stops again for his homecoming.

“It’s all very overwhelming,” she said. “It’s such a nice neighborhood we live in that shows such pride and respect for someone that’s put his life on hold to do what he needed to do. It was amazing.”

Word got around when one of her neighbors passed around a flier asking neighbors to fly their flags on Sunday. The neighborhood children took the initiative and made homemade signs, placed flags in people’s yards and more.

She said she made sure to drive home from the airport Sunday afternoon so her husband could look and enjoy the celebration laid out for him.

“Someone even had their iPod playing patriotic songs,” she said. “Every returning service man and woman should have that. They come back and people say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Elliott said he was “stunned” at the reception the neighborhood had planned for him. But they didn’t forget about him when he was overseas, either — neighbors even sent cards and care packages while he was there.

“It was amazing,” he said, noting that his father, a veteran of the unpopular Vietnam War, got a much different reception upon his return home. “I’ve got the best neighbors in the world.”

As amazing as the celebration was, the neighbors likely won’t get the chance to do it again — at least not for Elliott. He hopes to retire within the next year or so and return to work for United Airlines, where he previously worked during a break from active duty. There are no more deployments set for his unit until after that, he said.