SLIDELL, La. -- There was a runway of red, white and blue, along with a welcome mat made of stars and stripes.
And it was nothing the five sailors expected when returning to the Slidell area from a half-year deployment in the South China Sea Wednesday.
"It's still got me in awe because I was not expecting this," said U.S. Navy AGCS Charles Doss, "We thought it was just a going to be to have a lunch and just go home, and it's really, I love it."
The Slidell Ladies for Liberty hosted the welcome home surprise. It's one of more than a hundred the group has held for service members they first encounter through mailing address only, as part of their monthly care package program for deployed military members.
"When we started this, the young man that we sent our packages to, he told us you would be surprised at the people that didn't get anything. No letters from home. Nothing," said Kay DeLuca with the Slidell Ladies for Liberty, "That breaks my heart."
So the package program grew, then evolved into welcoming parties, which is experiencing an expanded welcoming committee.
"I made a promise that no veteran would ever come home the way we did," said a Vietnam Veteran in attendance.
The service members say not only is it special to have the support of groups like the Slidell Ladies for Liberty, it's also heartwarming to see the community has their backs as well.
"This is truly a blessing to see this," said U.S. Navy AG1 Justin Coryell, "It's an outpouring of emotions that we see on a daily basis out there. There's so many sailors that miss the opportunity to see their families. So many don't get a chance to come back home."
But for those who do, the Slidell Ladies for Liberty, and this community, will be there with flags and salutes.
If you'd like to help the Slidell Ladies of Liberty with their mission, or join their operation, head to their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/SlidellLadiesforLiberty/, or their website, http://www.slidellladiesforliberty.org/.
(© 2016 WWL)