2007-10-05 / Front Page

A welcome return

American Family Link welcomes home six servicemen
BY LINDSAY SAUVAGEAU LSAUVAGEAU@LEOMINSTERCHAMP.COM

From left to right, Army staff Sgt. Don Hollingsworth, Sgt. Jonathan Blinn, Benjamin Stone, Petty officer 3rd class Selvin Melhorn and Army Spc. Lesly Pierre cut a special "welcome home" cake donated by Auntie Ellen's at Thursday's celebration at the Veterans Center (photo above). Pierre is welcomed home by the Blue Star Mothers Thursday night (photo right). CHAMPION PHOTOS / LINDSAY SAUVAGEAU From left to right, Army staff Sgt. Don Hollingsworth, Sgt. Jonathan Blinn, Benjamin Stone, Petty officer 3rd class Selvin Melhorn and Army Spc. Lesly Pierre cut a special "welcome home" cake donated by Auntie Ellen's at Thursday's celebration at the Veterans Center (photo above). Pierre is welcomed home by the Blue Star Mothers Thursday night (photo right). CHAMPION PHOTOS / LINDSAY SAUVAGEAU After nearly four years as a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force, Benjamin Stone is happy to be home.

The Leominster resident was part of a welcome home party thrown by American Family Link last week, and like other returning servicemen, Stone emotionally talked about his family, his home, and his inspiration.

"I just want to thank everybody," he said. "I grew up literally right down the street. My grandfather was in World War II, my dad and uncle were both in the service, and here I am, rounding it off."

He continued, "After 9/11, after everything that had happened, I had a feeling in my gut that I needed to do something, and I'm thankful for the chance."

Thursday night, Veterans' Services Director and President of American Family Link Richard Voutour, along with dozens from Leominster and the surrounding communities, joined American Family Link and the Blue Star Mothers in welcoming home six returning soldiers from various branches of the U.S. military.

"This is not just a Leominster thing, it's a community thing," said Voutour.

After the Pledge of Allegiance and a brief prayer, Voutour, Rep. Jennifer Flanagan (DLeominster), and other state and city officials helped present the soldiers with plaques of honor and appreciation.

"This is for the sacrifices you have made on behalf of our country," said Flanagan as she handed out citations from both the House and Senate. "This is just a small token we can give you, in comparison to all you have given us."

Army Staff Sgt. Don Hollingsworth received his citations wearing a camouflaged jumpsuit and smile. He told those gathered that the care packages sent to the troops by American Family Link were both heartwarming and helpful.

"These packages," he began, gesturing to a table full of care items on display, "I must have got 50 of them in a threeweek time period. I had no clue what to do with them until I volunteered at a hospital and decided to bring them there for the injured soldiers."

Later, Hollingsworth noted, "the difference these packages made for the soldiers was amazing."

Army Spc. Lesly Pierre of Leominster also made note of the care packages after he was presented with his honors.

"The care packages were instrumental in making us feel a little bit of home, from home," he said.

He said the packages also helped build bonds between the soldiers and Iraqi children.

"We passed some of them out to Iraqi children … they were instrumental in helping us make peace," he said.

Fitchburg resident Selvin Melhorn served as a Petty Officer 3rd Class in the Navy before finally returning home to Fitchburg a couple weeks ago. Melhorn said he lived for a few months in Puerto Rico with his family before coming back to Fitchburg.

"I've been out since December and for awhile went to live with my family in Puerto Rico but for some reason, I just missed being home [in Fitchburg]," he said.

"It is home," said Voutour.

The soldiers were given welcome home packages at the end of the evening, containing donated items like miniature golf passes and restaurant gift certificates.

"We want you to have a piece of home when you come home," said Voutour.

The group was also invited to cut into and share a special sheet cake donated by Auntie Ellen's.

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