Suburban soldier gets hero's welcome home

March 5, 2011 8:48:19 PM PST
It was a happy homecoming with lots of hugs for a soldier from Berwyn who was injured overseas.

Sgt. Kenneth Marinellie, 23, has served five tours of duty, three in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.

He was wounded in December 2009, and on Saturday, friends and family surprised him with a huge outpouring of love.

What made this moment special wasn't just the surprise marching band, parade of well-wishers and speeches from dignitaries.

"I want to thank this young man for everything he's done for our safety," said Berwyn's Ald. Rafael Avila.

For Marinellie and his loved-ones, this homecoming was special because it nearly didn't happen.

"We are so grateful that we didn't lose him because it was very close. We almost did lose him," said Marinellie's grandmother Joanne Wawrzyniak.

"We were very fortunate to get him back," said Marinellie's father James.

It was 15 months ago that Marinellie was wounded in an explosion during a special operations raid.

He lost a finger and sustained serious injuries to the left side of his body.

"His parents really took it hard because being so far away, they didn't know what was really happening with him," said Marinellie's grandfather Kevin Wawrzyniak.

"As many downs as there's been, with stuff like this, it makes it all better, it really does," Marinellie said. "Something as simple as this makes me forget about all the hard parts."

It's been a long and difficult year of rehab at his base in Washington state, but through it all, relatives say Marinellie has stayed positive.

"On the days he wasn't at the hospital doing rehab, he would be at the base just exercising, just working out with his unit," said Marinellie's grandmother Joanne Wawrzyniak.

"I've never seen Ken negative in his whole life, so I wouldn't expect something like this to bring him down at all, so it's not a surprise to me," said Marinellie's friend Nick Roginic.

Marinellie plans to stay in the Army.

He got married a few months ago, and his wife, who's also in the military, is currently on her second deployment to Iraq.

"I can't even describe how proud I am of her. I talk about her constantly to everyone. It's incredible," Marinellie said.

Marinellie will be home in Berwyn for a week before heading back to his base. He says he plans to spend much of his time here eating.

In fact, his first stop after arriving at the airport was to pick up a Chicago-style hot dog.