Their prayers were answered: Families reunited with Marines

Published: October 27, 2006 | 4958th good news item since 2003

Alexander Mejia’s deployment to Iraq was difficult on his parents.

“My faith was tested many times,” Ciriaco Mejia, 57, said yesterday, fighting back tears.

His wife, Consuelo, said she found comfort sitting with her son’s photograph and reading Psalm 121 – “The Lord will keep you from all harm. He will watch over your life.”

But the Mejia family can rest easy now that Alexander is home in Lawrence.

He was among hundreds of Marines, members of the 1st Battalion, 25th Infantry, who arrived in Massachusetts yesterday after seven months in Iraq.

The Mejia family and others from the Merrimack Valley were on the grounds of the former Fort Devens as the buses carrying their Marines rolled in. The crowd broke into thunderous applause. Then there were hugs, kisses and tears.

Methuen native Sgt. Brian Vitale, 24, was among the returning Marines.

Vitale said he could not wait to spend time with his “huge Italian family” and his fiance, Kaitlyn Gallant.

Of course, he also wanted something good to eat.

“That’s all I want to do right now. Get a bite to eat and hang out with my family,” Vitale said.

A 2000 graduate of Methuen High School, Vitale has been a Marine for six years. While in Iraq, he worked on a personal security team for a member of battalion command staff, he said.

Vitale, who grew up on Bonanno Court, is the son of Linda and the late Jack Vitale. His arrival at Fort Devens was not only his journey back from Iraq. It’s also the end of his active duty with the Marines, although he said he is considering joining a reserve unit now that he is back in the United States.

The unit was activated last December, and after three months of training they were sent to Fallujah. Their mission included humanitarian relief, uncovering weapons caches and working with local Iraqis to reopen an asphalt factory to rebuild roads.

“Not having your son by your side is worrisome enough. I can just imagine how those families (who lost loved ones) feel,” Ciriaco Mejia said.

October has been an especially violent month in Iraq with 96 U.S. troops losing their lives. As of yesterday, at least 2,809 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Eleven members from the 1st Battalion, 25th Infantry, were killed during their deployment in Fallujah, said Sgt. Peter Walz, public affairs chief.

Mejia, 23, a 2001 graduate of Greater Lawrence Technical High School, said he joined the Marines three years ago to help pay for his college education. He was studying business at UMass-Lowell before he was deployed.

His girlfriend of two years, Albeyri Gonzalez of Haverhill, was at Fort Devens to greet him.

Mejia would call Gonzalez every three days and talked about how their lives were going. They also e-mailed each other regularly.

“I tried to stay positive, but I always wondered what he was doing and what was happening where he was,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes I was just scared because I was afraid of losing him.”

After seven months away from home, Mejia said he also craves his mother’s cooking.

She had been cooking for three days, making meat pies, Dominican-style stew, angel food cake, cheesecake and her son’s favorite meal – rice, beans and steak laden with onions.

She said that was the least she could do. For the past seven months, she has been able to sleep only two or three hours a day.

She would wake up around 3 a.m., get on her knees and pray for her son. At one point her blood pressure was so high she was hospitalized for several days.

“I feel better now because my son is home, and I thank God for that,” Consuelo Mejia said.

She watched the news constantly to keep abreast of the latest events in Iraq.

“I knew it was bad, but I always trusted that God would bring him home safe,” she said. “The house felt so empty without him.”

His brothers, Eggar Mejia, 24, and Claudio Camacho, 33, agreed.

“The three of us were always joking and horsing around,” said Camacho, a Lawrence police officer.

“If we didn’t hear from him for a couple of days, my mind would start to wonder,” Camacho said. “We always try to keep happy thoughts, pray and stay positive.”

Throughout the Mejia home yesterday there were “Welcome Home” signs, yellow happy face balloons and homemade posters in both English and Spanish.

The Mejias’ front door was open as family members and friends streamed in to welcome their neighborhood hero.

Oscar and Lillian Vasquez did not have to travel far. They have lived next door to the Mejias for nine years. Oscar said he also was proud of Alexander’s service.

“I’m happy that he defended our country and protected our freedom,” Oscar said. “He did a good deed for all of us.”

Published in Family, Prayer, Reunited
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