In the early morning on Saturday, a group of folks, about 75 strong, welcomed Lance Cpl. Nathan Ryerson back from the war in Iraq to his home in West Milton.
The hastily arranged greeting included flags, signs, tears, a song, and prayers of thanksgiving.
Ryerson, 27, is the first member of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines from Ohio, the reserve unit that lost 14 Marines on Aug. 3, to return home since the attack.
“Nate’s wife, Suzanne, is expecting their first child, a son, any day now,” said the Marine’s father, Greg Ryerson of Centerville. “He was granted a temporary emergency leave when she was hospitalized with complications that developed after she heard the devastating news from Iraq.”
Suzanne, who is 27, is still being treated for high blood pressure, and is being cautious, and could give birth at any time. She was released from the hospital in time to take part in the spontaneous welcome home ceremonies.
She received a phone call from her husband in New York City Friday afternoon that he was expected to arrive at the Greater Cincinnati Airport in 4 1/2 hours.
Calls were made to her parents, Steve and Sue Peters of West Milton, and Nathan’s parents, Greg and Jane Ryerson of Centerville, and family members mobilized and decided to drive to the airport in Northern Kentucky to greet Nathan when he arrived.
Nathan’s parents were attending the viewing for Lance Cpl. William Brett Wightman, one of their son’s fellow Marines in Lima Company who died in the attack on a convoy, when they got a call.
“We decided to go right to the airport,” the father said. “We had been on pins and needles awaiting word on when Nate would arrive. Suzanne said it would be about 9:20 p.m. We headed that way, and met other members of the family along with Nate’s wife, at the airport.”
According to the father, airport officials bent the rules, and allowed Suzanne to be taken in a wheel chair to the gate where Nate’s plane would land.
“He was just totally taken back, so surprised to see her there. It was very emotional, and Suzanne told him the family was waiting to bring him home.”
Ryerson added, “When he came out and I finally got to see him, and to hold our son in my arms, I can tell you it was awesome. I was able to sort of feel the feeling of answered prayer right there in my arms.”
Nathan Ryerson was riding in the convoy Aug. 3. in Barwanah, Iraq, and his vehicle was following the one which hit a roadside bomb. He witnessed the explosion and he and others were involved in a resulting fire fight with insurgents. Later, it was his assignment to help gather the personal effects of 11 casualties who he calls “my brothers.”
A reluctant hero, Nathan talked quietly on Sunday, and said, “Serving our country there was my job. I am not a hero and the spotlight should not be on me, but on my friends, my brothers, who gave their lives.”
He said he bunked in a small room with 15 other Marines, and 11 of those who were killed lived with him.
“Gathering up their possessions for return to loved ones was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” he said.
At the same time, he was impressed, and most appreciative, that a number of community members and neighbors mobilized quickly, joined his family members, and greeted him when he arrived home on short notice.
A 1997 graduate of Centerville High School, Nathan has been married to Suzanne since Sept. 30, 2000. They chose to live in West Milton near Suzanne’s parents. Her father, Steve, is minister of Community Grace Brethren Church in town. His civilian job is with Tanner Heat and Air Conditioning Co. on East River Road.
When Nate and his wife arrived back home in West Milton just before 1 a.m. Saturday, the first thing he saw was a sign in front of his father in law’s church saying, “Welcome Home Nate. We are Proud of You.”
Then he spotted a West Milton fire truck in the town’s grocery store parking lot.
“The truck was waiting to escort me home. I was so surprised in the middle of the night that they waited for me,” Ryerson said. “Then we pulled around the corner and all I could see were cars and people with American flags lining the street we live on.”
According to Greg Ryerson,, at least 75 family members, neighbors and friends waited in front of his son’s home and they applauded and cheered when Nathan emerged from the vehicle.
The father said, “After a while it got quiet, as if they were waiting on Nate to speak. He is a private person and he just looked around and told those gathered ‘thank you.’
“Then, as the group made a kind of semi-circle around Nate and Suzanne, someone began singing the hymn Amazing Grace and everyone held hands and joined in. It was emotional and there were many tears.”