Christmas in July? Crestwood soldier home for the Fourth
BY MIKE NOLAN email@example.com July 3, 2012 3:28PM
Michelle Liberio enbraces her son, Army Spc. Brad Liberio, as he is welcomed home to Crestwood on Tuesday. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 5, 2012 6:09AM
John Perez Sr. stood Tuesday in the oppressive heat rising up from Central Avenue in Crestwood, waving a large U.S. flag.
He’d been in the Army during the Korean War, and four other family members had served in the military. In a few minutes, Army Spc. Brad Liberio would be returning from Afghanistan to the Crestwood cul-de-sac where he grew up, and Perez, who’s known Liberio since he was an infant, wanted to make sure his return was special.
“It’s a big deal” welcoming a soldier back to American soil, Perez said. “It’s something to really appreciate.”
“It’s about time he came home,” Perez’s daughter, Gina McAuliffe, said. The Tinley Park woman stood near her father, also waving a flag.
Liberio spent his 22nd birthday in Afghanistan — he’ll turn 23 at the end of this month. He wasn’t able to make it home for Christmas, and a leave planned for February didn’t materialize, his mother, Michelle, said.
Sirens screaming, a stream of fire trucks from Crestwood and surrounding towns led a convoy that included members of the Illinois Patriot Guard and state police officers on motorcycles, who’d whisked Liberio and his family from O’Hare Airport to Crestwood.
After a round of hugs and handshakes, Liberio, surrounded by family members, struggled to express his feelings.
“This is big for me,” he said of the welcome home. “I went out there (overseas) and did what I was supposed to do, I did what I was told to do.
“There is so much going through my body right now, it’s kind of hard to comprehend,” he said.
Liberio’s mother said she was “overwhelmed and anxious” waiting at O’Hare for her son, whom she hadn’t seen face to face in more than a year.
They’d keep in touch through Facebook and got to chat from time to time via Skype. She’d mail care packages, stuffing boxes with items such as trail mix and vitamins.
“He’s really a health nut,” she said. “He doesn’t eat candy. He eats pretty darn (healthy).”
‘I need to talk to you’
A graduate of Shepard High School in Palos Heights, Liberio studied welding at Moraine Valley Community College and received training as an emergency medical technician. His career aspiration is to be a firefighter, his mother said.
Her son enlisted in the Army about three years ago and served in a field artillery unit while in Afghanistan.
Michelle Liberio said her and her husband “kind of knew it was coming” when their son told them, “We have to have a meeting, I need to talk to you.”
“He wanted to serve his country,” she said.
As a boy, her son was fearless and loyal, she said.
“He was not afraid of nothing,” Michelle Liberio said. “He would climb the tallest tree in the yard and swing from it.”
She said that when he left to join the Army, “he was a young man, and now he is wiser and more mature.”
He’ll have just 18 days at home, and Brad Liberio said he wants “to spend as much time as I can with my family.” Later this month the family will travel to Europe to celebrate Liberio’s birthday — visits to Paris and Rome are on the itinerary — then say goodbye when he returns to Germany, where his unit is based. His enlistment finishes in May.
His mother said she’s planning a family cookout while Brad is home and that her son is trying to cram in visits with close friends during his brief stay.
“It’s going to be crazy,” she said.