Detroit Marine Steven P. Stevens II returns home to patriotic welcome
View full sizeCHESTERFIELD TOWNSHIP, MI — The appreciation displayed for U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Steven P. Stevens II of Detroit, who lost his life serving in Afghanistan last week, and for his family, was strong Friday.
Underneath a milky-blue sky, flags fluttered in the shoreline winds of Lake St. Clair at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township as the Marine returned home.
Stevens, 23, of Detroit died June 22 while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
He enlisted in June of 2009 and leaves behind a son whom he was never able to meet. Deployed on March 21, Stevens’ son was born on March 29.
About 30 people, old and young, hoisted American flags of all sizes, some saluting, others with hands on hearts, and stood silent as Stevens’ motorcade passed on its way to James H. Cole Funeral Home at 16100 Schaefer Hightway in Detroit.
View full sizeThe “Star-Spangled Banner” played from a yellow DeWalt stereo placed on the gravel shoulder of the road.
The motorcade included several dozen motorcycles riden by Patriot Guard Riders — a volunteer group of motorcyclists that honors fallen soldiers by escorting their caskets upon their return home — Wayne County sheriff’s deputies, state police and Stevens’ family.
The procession passed under a large U.S. flag hung from a line strung between the elevated ladders of two Chesterfield Township firetrucks.
Clinton Township and Chesterfield Township firefighters stood in line and saluted.
Even after the procession passed, those who came to welcome Stevens remained still and waited for the national anthem to finish.
View full size“Can you imagine, never being able to see your son,” said Angela Brand, who was brought to tears as the plane carrying Stevens’ flew overhead on its way to land at the base.
“He never got to hold him; he never got to touch him,” said her husband, Mitch Brand, 40.
The couple attends the arrival of every fallen soldier from Macomb County and tries to be present for as many other arrivals as possible.
Up to 100 people sometimes come out in a show of respect, said Angela Brand, who’s helped organize the welcoming of soldiers since the war began.
View full size“We put flags from the church to the cemetery, and the looks on the (faces of the family members) was amazing,” said Angela Brand, remembering the first soldier she welcomed home.
The mother tracked Brand down at the hair salon she owns with her daughter, Mirror Mirror in Clinton Township.
“She walked in and I didn’t know her and she said, ‘I wanted to thank you. We had a ten-second smile,’ and that made my day” Brand said. “Do you know home many people come home and nobody does this? Everything is taken for granted and it makes me so mad.”
Mitch Brand, whose family delayed a camping trip come out to the base Friday, said people need to do more to show their appreciation.
View full size“These people that are driving by now, just looking, they could just take five minutes out of their day and show their support,” he said.
American combat troops are expected to be pulled out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but recent activity there has left some with doubts.
Most who attended Stevens’ return said they want the troops brought home, but some wonder if the U.S. is in too deep to bring the troops home without it causing greater calamity.
“I didn’t think we should have been over their in the first place,” Mitch Brand said. “The billions and billions we are spending is ridiculous.
“But I think if they did a full pullout, I think it would just be a matter of time somebody else would try to take over.”
Wearing a blue tank exposing his dark-tanned arms, the back of which said, “Hang Loose, Hawaii,” Mark Walerzak, 63, of Algonac holds a small American flag.
View full sizeIt was 1971 — he was 20 then, a few years younger than Stevens — when Walerzak lost his fraternal twin brother Bill in the Vietnam War.
Walerzak said his brother was a “spotter” in an unarmed helicopter with no protection when he was shot down.
“I’ve never really had closure,” he says, adding that when he comes out to support fallen soldiers like Stevens, he is also paying tribute to his brother.
Stevens’ uncle, Dwight Atkins, said his nephew attended Cass Technical High
School in Detroit and attended Florida AM University on a swimming
scholarship, according to the Associated Press.
Visitations for Stevens are scheduled from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at James H. Cole Funeral Home, 16100 Schaefer Hightway in Detroit.
The funeral begins at 11 a.m. Monday at Hope United Methodist Church, 26275 Northwestern Freeway in Southfield.
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