Not the falling rain, 40-degree temperature or even the hour delay from traffic could keep the community from coming out to show their support for returning soldier Amie Joy.
Joy, a 3rd class petty officer in the U.S. Navy, just finished a 10-month tour on a supply ship in the Persian Gulf.
"We felt it was important to recognize the gift of having these soldiers returning home alive," said Teri Stickler, a committee member of the Friends and Allies Fund that sponsored the "hero's welcome home."
Friends and Allies was the brainchild of retired oil worker and Vietnam veteran Dan Ungrue. He said he started the nonprofit organization after being inspired from watching events of the war unfold in the news.
"I wanted to start a collection to help out returning U.S. soldiers and their families, as well as the soldiers of the coalition forces," Ungrue said.
"We've started a trust fund for the children of soldiers," he said. "We also hope to raise enough to erect a memorial to be placed in Great Britain honoring those who have given their lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom and thanking Tony Blair and the British people for their support in the war effort."
On the way down from Anchorage, Joy was delayed in traffic behind a highway accident, but the wait didn't dissuade members of the American Legion, VFW and other supporters from sticking around.
When Joy arrived in the decorated convertible Thunderbird provided by Great Bear Ford, the crowd applauded and cheered while waving American flags of all sizes.
Joy received many hugs and kisses from supporters and was presented with a bouquet of yellow roses.
Soldotna Mayor David Carey attended the event dressed in a red, white and blue tie and "POW Gone but not forgotten" hat. He gave Joy a city of Soldotna lapel pin and numerous handmade cards and packages of gum from middle school students.
"We want to thank you for all that you've done for this country," Carey told Joy.
Joy seemed awestruck by the celebration.
"No one told me anything about this," she said. "It feels good though. It makes me feel like I really accomplished something."
Joy's younger sister Hannah was misty-eyed as she clung to her older siblings leg.
"I'm excited she's here," she said.
The thanks weren't only one direction during the celebration. Joy returned the favor and went through the crowd personally thanking each individual for coming out.
Just as the festivities were winding down, a surprise announcement was anonymously made, that a second war veteran also was in attendance.
Derek Calhoun, a fellow Naval soldier stationed on the same supply ship as Joy, revealed his presence and received a round of applause.
Calhoun, originally from Augusta, Ga., is Joy's boyfriend and hoped to see the place where she grew up and meet her friends and family.
Joy's father was beside his daughter throughout the event beaming with pride. Joy's mother was at home awaiting her arrival.
Her mother said she was excited her daughter was returning home safe and sound.
"It was good to hear her voice after so long," said Angie Joy, regarding a phone conversation they had after her daughter arrived in Washington.
"Her family is looking forward to spending time with her," she said. "She did some growing up over there, but inside she's still the same girl to me."
Joy will only be home for four days before she returns to duty in Everett, Wash. She said she hopes to spend the time with her family and 1-year-old daughter, Corynn, who was only 2 months old when she left.
The Friends and Allies Fund is asking for donations to support the family and their organization. Size 24-months baby clothes also would be appreciated.
To make a donation or to learn more information about the fund, call 335-2633 or visit the Web site at http://www.friendsandallies. com.
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