It doesn’t get much more traditionally American than service to country, flags waving and bands playing, and barbecues.
And when Marine Lance Cpl. Phil Boni and Air Force Staff Sgt. Walter Thompson came marching home to Prattsburgh last Saturday, the town went all out to welcome back their heroes with the parade and flags and food.
It was a day for both men to look back on, memories of honoring sacrifice, and families and a nation at war. They received T-shirts, they returned salutes, they brought pride to the town of 1,900.
What stood out for them the most, though, was their roles as dad in another American classic Saturday – baseball.
“Oh! Throwing out the ball to my son, Ryett,” Boni said.
“Ahhh, that would be throwing the baseball to my daughter, Shelby,” Thompson said.
The Little League games kicked off Saturday’s festivities for both men.
Thompson, 32, a reservist, was called back to active duty a couple years ago with the 914th Maintenance Unit based in Niagara Falls, and worked on helicopters when he was sent to Qatar, located next to Saudi Arabia and southeast of Kuwait.
“Our motto was there’s no airpower without ground power,” he said.
Boni, 28, also is a helicopter mechanic with VMM 266, and spent time overseas in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan, the Mediterannean and West Africa.
They’re glad to be home with their wives, Grace Boni and Paula Thompson, and children Ryett and Lyric Boni, and Michaela, Shelby and Curtis Thompson.
A career Marine, Boni said his next step is to complete the purchase of a home in North Carolina for his family. Thompson said he will commute to Niagara Falls until the 2.5 years left is up.
“That is, unless Congress declares war,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s reaction to Osama bin Laden’s death was positive, but realistic.
“At first I was ‘Pack our bags, let’s go home,’ but that wasn’t the case,” he said. “We’re fighting an idea now, not a person.”
Thompson and Boni were saddened to hear of the death of U.S. Army Spc. Devin Snyder, 20, of Cohocton, who died June 4 with three other military policemen when a roadside bomb exploded under their vehicle in Laghman Province in Afghanistan.
They said armed forces are well aware of the dangers they face in the Middle East, but they don’t dwell on them.
“It’s at the back of everybody’s mind,” Thompson said. “I wasn’t even in a threatened area and they still issued us protective equipment. Even for us there in Qatar, there were still areas we were not allowed in.”
Boni said units stay focused on their missions.
“It’s not something I really deal with,” he said. “I guess (anxiety) is something more for them at home. I’ve got a job to do.”