Returning home for a 15-day leave, Marine Lance Corporal Andrew Faller received the greeting of a lifetime Saturday night after 10 p.m., as part of Long Island MacArthur Airport's "Hometown Hero" Welcome Program overseen by the Town of Islip.
The 22-year-old Holbrook native, whose older brother serves in the Special Forces, walked between twin rows of flag-bearers which included family, military veterans, Patriot Guard Riders and Blue Star Mothers (mothers of children in all branches of the armed forces) among others, shaking hands and smiling as he humbly accepted his welcome home.
"I wasn't expecting this at all," he said to the crowd, posing for the first of many pictures.
Following the reception, a large motorcade stretching nearly three city blocks long escorted him home from the Airport, down Veterans Highway and back to his neighborhood.
"I was awestruck," said Larry, his father, overwhelmed by the outpouring of gratitude. "The fact that these people would do this for my son...there's no words. A 'thank you' just isn't enough for them."
"It was a big surprise, just seeing my family and everybody waiting there at the gate," he said at home, after the motorcade gave way to a welcome-home party.
After two years in the Marine Corps (2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU), Faller has had his mettle tested and endured, having helped with security efforts for the UN in Haiti following the earthquake that devastated the Carribean nation last January, as well as engaging pirates off the coast of East Africa in April aboard the USS Ashland - all six of the pirates firing upon the ship were captured after the attack, which the ship survived unscathed as did her crew.
Faller looks forward to hanging out and catching up with friends and family. After this leave and a nine-month workup, Faller will be deployed to Afghanistan.
Larry, grateful for his sons' contributions to his country, also spoke frankly of the concern that accompanies it. "You sleep an hour, then you wake up, sleep another hour, then wake up again."
"I've seen so many nephews go, and I'm always so grateful when they come home safe," said Allison Dollard of Manorville, Faller's aunt. "You just want them home safe."