HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - It is Heroes Week in the Tennessee Valley. For the 11th year, the Semper Fi Community Task Force is hosting a week of celebrations meant to honor the courage of wounded veterans, and their sacrifices, through Veterans Day.
Hundreds of people welcomed 28 of our nation's wounded heroes and their loved ones-- 53 people in total-- on Wednesday at Huntsville International Airport, with cheers and "Thank you's."
For the veterans, these two small but powerful words can soothe the soul.
"I was not expecting this beautiful reception. It was just awesome. It was just, I don't know what to say," said Hector Marrujo after he walked through the long receiving line at the airport. "I'm just really touched."
Harry Bakken, the Semper Fi Community Task Force Strategic Communications Director, explained why the big welcome is so important.
"A lot of them were in the hospital and they weren't given an opportunity to be welcome back to their homes or to their home bases. So this is it," he stated. "We have a chance to thank them. To love on them."
It's described as overwhelming, exhilarating, and tear-jerking, all at the same time.
Danielle Bryant came to the airport with her husband, James Bryant, Jr., and their son. Bryant, Jr. spent 16 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Last year, Danielle says they were the ones coming through the airport gates to the crowd's greeting.
"I remember coming through these gates, getting off the plane, and just being overwhelmed by the community. Just how much they actually care," said Bryant.
This time, they're in the receiving line.
"It's exciting, honestly, to be a part of this side of it," she said. "Because I know what they're going through. The emotions that they're feeling. And I don't have to feel that this time, but now I feel that sense of welcoming."
Danielle says they loved the welcome so much, her family moved to Huntsville.
"Huntsville does have something to offer. Give it a chance!" she said. "After coming to see it with the Semper Fi Community Task Force bringing us here, it opened up our eyes and made us more comfortable coming to the area."
But the cheerful welcome didn't stop at the airport. There was a motorcade led by Alabama State Troopers and area law enforcement, the Patriot Guard, and Semper Fi Riders.
This begins a week of V.I.P. treatment.
"There are dinners. Boat rides. They get to get airplane rides. So we really roll the carpet out," said Bakken. He said the guests attend the Marine Corps ball and caregivers get to wear dresses and receive spa treatments. There is a bass fishing tournament and a cruise around Lake Guntersville. Saturday, they will be guests of honor in the Huntsville/Madison County Veterans Day Parade with the Vets with Vettes and Corvette Owners clubs.
Everyone wants these people to know how much they are appreciated.
"They served for us, and they put themselves in danger for us," said one young lady in the crowd.
Hector Marrujo added, "It's a good feeling."