09/13/09 — Making sure there's a hero's welcome

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Making sure there's a hero's welcome

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 13, 2009 2:00 AM

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Eric Templin, surrounded by friends, family and other Bridle Path community residents, says the Pledge of Allegiance at a party held for his homecoming from a tour in Afghanistan Thursday.

On a quiet street along the outskirts of Goldsboro, a group of neighbors came together to give one of their own a welcome home.

It was just a simple barbecue -- complete with hot dogs, homemade cakes and coconut pie -- but to many of those in attendance, it was about so much more.

To the Vietnam and Korean War veterans on hand, that gathering on Bridle Path Road was about giving a 24-year-old hero the thank you they never got.

It was about letting Senior Airman Eric Templin know his service in Afghanistan was appreciated.

"It's because of you and people like you that we're here today," said Gregg White, the Vietnam veteran who hosted the celebration.

Templin is one of hundreds of 4th Fighter Wing airmen who returned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base this week after four-month tours at Bagram Airfield.

One of his neighbors, retired Master Sgt. Patrick Cooper, remembers how it feels to come back to Wayne County after a stint at war.

"Six years ago, it was me," the Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran said. "All the support, it makes you feel good."

Retired Marine John Swink wouldn't know.

"When I came home from Vietnam, they called you 'baby killer' and stuff. That was our welcome back," he said. "But this is a good community right here. It sticks together."

That's why Templin never had to worry about the security of his home while he was in the desert. He knew his neighbors were behind him.

"It was a good feeling knowing I've got people I can trust," he said.

And that trust he had in them will endure, as he knows they, too, understand what happens in a combat zone.

"I wouldn't have any issues about talking to any of these guys about what I've been through," Templin said. "It's just unbelievable to experience a piece of what they have."

Following in his neighbors' footsteps makes him proud he chose to serve.

And they feel the same way about him.

"I spent years in the Air Force and ... to see guys like Eric carrying it on, it makes me proud," Cooper said.

Swink agreed.

"I really see them as I was back in my day," he said. "They've got better equipment now ... but I see their faces and ... I say, 'That could be me.'"

Larry Gibson said support for the new generation of war fighters doesn't stop on Bridle Path Road.

Veterans like him are all over the county, and most of the people who live in Wayne have some kind of tie to the military, he said.

"So I think they really appreciate the GIs being here. And they know what it's like to come back and have people not say anything to you," the onetime Marine and retired airman said. "But I think especially for the people you see right here, they are going to do what they can to let those youngsters know, 'You are important. What you do is important.'"

For Templin, it is not just about the duty -- it is about the people back home counting on him while he does his job overseas.

"I've been here almost two years now and this place grows on you. It really does," he said. "You couldn't ask for better neighbors. These people right here are outstanding to come home to."