rict of Afghanistan's Kandahar province, Pfc. James Yancey came home Saturday night to a welcome party of close to 50 people at the Walla Walla Regional Airport.
Yancey was greeted by his parents, Bob and Kathie, younger sister Hannah, several other family members and close friends, and several Walla Walla firefighters -- Bob Yancey is also deputy chief for the Walla Walla Fire Department.
But the largest group of welcomers were those who didn't personally know the Yanceys -- members and supporters of the VFW Post 466 and its ladies auxiliary.
"I didn't expect this many people," the 21-year-old artilleryman said. He added that when he saw the crowd, "I thought, 'It's good to be home.'"
A little after 8 p.m., the VFW members began arriving, with banners and American flags, ready to give the soldier a proper welcome home right alongside family and friends.
The last time Bob and Kathie saw their son was in March 2010, while he was stationed in Germany before being deployed to Afghanistan.
"I wondered when I held him if I would ever hold his warm body again," Kathie said, recalling one of the last embraces she gave her son on that visit.
The mother's angst is not over yet, as Yancey has 30 days leave before heading back overseas.
"I know we will go through this again, but I am so proud and so relieved," she said.
VFW officials noted that enlisted men and women often come home without much recognition because they generally travel in small groups or by themselves, as Yancey did.
On the last leg of his journey, Yancey was joined by another enlisted man, Mitch DePaulo, 20, of Dayton, who had just finished boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
Yancey said a smaller welcoming party took place when he and a number of other soldiers arrived in Germany. That party, however, was mostly made up of spouses and children.
"The family guys, they all got a welcome. We just kind of stood around in the back. So this is a welcomed surprise," he said.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.