Shelton soldier returns home to hero’s welcome

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — It was a mission accomplished for Operation Welcome Home.

William Stanton, a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force National Guard, was welcomed home last Friday from his latest overseas deployment with 100 American flags lined along the curb for a block and a half leading to the service member’s front door.

And when his neighbors learned what was going on, they all joined in by leaving their front porch lights on to welcome him home and shed light on to the flags in front of their homes for his evening arrival.

“It is always amazing to see the full spectrum of support that the Shelton community gives to military and first responders,” Stanton, who had been deployed in southwest Asia, said. “I could not have picked a better community to raise a family in. I feel blessed every day.”

The patriotic scene was thanks to Operation Welcome Home — a creation of the Shelton-based Sutter-Terlizzi American Legion Post 16.

“It meant a lot to our family to do this … especially for our three little girls,” Stanton’s wife, Kelly, a U.S. Air Force veteran herself, said.

Kelly said the couple’s two older daughters, who are 6 and 7 years old, understood that their father was not home because he was helping our country, but when he left seven months ago their youngest was only 2-months-old.

“Because of technology and use of FaceTime and Skype we were able to talk, and she got to see him,” Kelly said. “All his girls were so grateful to see him. The baby recognized him and smiled. It was so nice to see the community come together to help my family welcome him home the way they did. It really meant a lot to us.”

Stanton has served for 19 years and has been deployed overseas six times. But this time, Kelly wanted to give her husband a special welcome home. That is where Operation Welcome Home came in.

The Shelton Legion Post recently started the program, according to Mike Kellett, American Legion Post 16 sergeant at arms, to help families of military personnel in welcoming home their loved ones from deployment, discharge or retirement from the military.

“As veterans still serving America, the Legion recognizes and appreciates the sacrifice of all who serve as well as the sacrifice of their families,” Kellett said.

Kelly Stanton said she learned of the program from Kellett during a recent Legion meeting and knew it was a perfect way to welcome her husband home.

She said both she and her husband are U.S. Air Force veterans and members of Post 16. The pair first met in the Air Force National Guard when they were in the same unit together.

“When (Kellett) came up with the idea to get a team together, I couldn’t resist to help out,” Kelly said. “It is a great way to honor our veterans, military coming home.”

Kellett said placing the flags for Stanton’s return was the team’s first “mission accomplished” for Operation Welcome Home.

“As veterans it felt good to us knowing that he got the message of ‘Thank You and Welcome Home’ loud and clear,” Kellett said. “We hope this will be the first of many homecomings that we line the street with flags to celebrate the return of a service member.”

The program was developed this year here in The American Legion of Connecticut, 3rd District (Fairfield County), Kellett said, as a way for the Legionaries to show support for service members.

Kellett said other American Legion Posts in Fairfield County are also planning to adopt the program.

“Many older veterans did not receive a thank you or welcome home,” Kellett said.

Kellett recalled one of his friends who no longer lives in town, joined the Legion in 2005 and marched in the 2006 Memorial Day parade.

“During the parade, a little girl passed him a piece of paper,” Kellett recalled. “At the end of the parade, he opened it. It said, ‘Thank You.’ His face was filled with so many emotions as he told me that this was the first time that anyone had thanked him, and it had been more than 30 years since he came home.

“No one should have to wait that long to hear or read those words,” Kellett added. “Operation Welcome Home's mission it to help ensure that our brothers and sisters returning home and their families know how much their sacrifice for our country is appreciated.”

Post 16 Commander Dave Gallagher said welcome home are two simple words that far too many veterans did not get to hear upon their return home.

“The American Legion is committed to making sure that on our watch, returning soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines get the message loud and clear with the Operation Welcome Home Program,” Gallagher said.

Kellett said Legionaries will work with family members to find just the right location for the flags, and they will be placed the afternoon or evening before a service member comes home and removed the day after.

Families living in Shelton, who would like flags placed at no cost, to welcome home their loved ones returning from deployment should contact American Legion Post 16 of Shelton at admin@sheltonpost16.org.

“My husband and I can’t thank the American Legion Post 16 and Operation Welcome home team enough for their support towards us throughout his deployment, remembering him at Veteran's Day, placing flags out in our neighborhood to welcome him home,” Kelly said. “We are blessed to be a part of such a great community family.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com