Military members given special welcome home at GRR

Salute has become a holiday tradition


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This time of the year, at any given airport, you’ll find an eagerness ahead of long-awaited reunions.

For Dave and Michelle Oracz – it’s a moment that’s brought them to tears.

“(It’s) exciting,” Dave told 24 Hour News 8 Friday. “He hasn’t been home in 2 years.”

Their son Nick is a U.S. Army Soldier. They haven’t seen him in months.

So, Friday afternoon, they brought the whole family to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport to welcome Nick home. But when they showed up, that welcome home was already in place. Not just for Nick – but for all of military men and women.

“It’s awesome. So much pride,” Dave said of the display.

The Patriot Guard Riders and Blue Star Mothers stood watch all day long inside the concourse, saluting with American flags and offering thanks to both active duty members and those who served years ago.

“It’s an honor every time we do it,” Tony VanGessel of the Patriot Guard Riders told 24 Hour News 8. The salute has become an annual tradition.

The group caught Navy veteran Matt Whitlatch and his wife Dawn by surprise on their way to California. They’re heading west to visit their daughter this Christmas. She’s now in the Navy just like her father once was.

Matt choked up as he made his way through the sea of red, white and blue.

“It’s pretty amazing. Thank you,” he said, fighting back tears.

It was emotional for the Oracz family too. Nick finally made his way to the concourse and to his family early Friday afternoon.

Last Christmas, he was in Iraq. Now, he’ll be home – if only for three days. His plans on this time off are simple.

“Just spend time with family. Enjoy it while I can.”