by Melanie Jongsma
LANSING, Ill. (October 25, 2018) – Jacob Pape was unprepared for the homecoming he received Tuesday night. His mom, Mary Frey, had made the arrangements and kept them secret. So when she pulled into the Sunrise Health Food parking lot on their way home from O’Hare Airport, he was confused. And when she proudly showed him off to the crowd who approached them, he probably would have been angry if there weren’t so many people around. So he graciously shook hands with Legion Riders, police officers, and government officials, and he accepted their heartfelt thanks for his service.
Pape had spent two Army years away from home, most recently in Korea. Although he is “only” on leave, the Legion Riders wanted to give him the same welcome they have given to Lansing WWII and Korean War veterans returning from Honor Flight Chicago experiences. The Sunrise parking lot is a convenient gathering place—it’s on the right-hand side of the Torrence exit from the highway, and there’s plenty of room for well-wishers to park and wait. Since most welcome gatherings take place after 9:00pm, Sunrise is already closed, and shoppers are not inconvenienced.
A typical welcome involves about 20 riders and as many police and fire vehicles as are available on a given day. More recently, as members of the broader community have learned about the welcome tradition, they have shown up in the parking lot as well.
After a round of thank-yous and welcome-homes, Pape and his mom got back in the car and were given a hero’s escort—with lights, sirens, and horns—to the American Legion, where they joined the Legion Riders for drinks and debriefing. Overwhelmed but appreciative, Pape is still processing his return to America and his return to Lansing.