U.S. Navy Corpsman Devin Hudson receives a warm welcome from...

U.S. Navy Corpsman Devin Hudson receives a warm welcome from members of the Sound Beach Fire Department, of which he was a volunteer. (June 30, 2012) Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

Waving banners, signs and American flags, about 150 people lined up near the gift shop in the main terminal of Long Island MacArthur Airport on Saturday, waiting for Devin Hudson, 23, to walk through the gate.

Hudson, a Navy corpsman who returned from a seven-month tour in Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion 6th Marine Gulf Company, is only home for 16 days. But the Sound Beach native got an official Hometown Hero Welcome, organized by Islip Councilman John Cochrane's office, to thank him for his service.

With his family behind him and a wall of cheers and applause ahead, Hudson walked through an archway of American flags held up by military service members' motorcycle clubs, such as the Red Knights, and shook hands with members of his hometown fire department, where both he and his father volunteer.

"I didn't expect all this," said a slightly overwhelmed Hudson after shaking numerous hands and meeting his baby cousin for the first time. "It feels really good -- I definitely didn't see this coming at all."

Marlene Johnson, who works for Cochrane and organizes the Hometown Hero Welcome, said this is the 15th this year. Each time, members of local fire departments and military-centered motorcycle clubs pay respects.

"It's a great feeling," said Gil Moreno, a former Navy corpsman who rides with the Leathernecks. "Some of these kids are young. . . . It's good to see them in one piece. We can't forget them. We can't forget the vets."

Hudson's dad, Ed Hudson, said he served in the Navy in the post-Vietnam War era, when military support was low. He said he remembers boarding a crowded train in his uniform and people shied from him.

"This is so great to see . . . ," Hudson said. "The difference from what I experienced to today . . . people, I think, honestly have gratitude and appreciate and understand the sacrifices they make."

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