BRADENTON -- John Scheiding thought his mother was kidding around.
His discharge from the Marines after five years was just weeks away and Kathy O’Connell was dropping subtle hints his homecoming was not going to be a low-key affair.
“She was making jokes about how there was going to be a parade,” said the 23-year-old Manatee High School alum on Tuesday. “I thought she was just kidding.”
“You know your mom,” said his wife, Hilary.
After an arduous journey south from Quantico, Va., the Scheidings and their laboring Range Rover were joined by more than a dozen flag-bearing Patriot Guard Riders in Palmetto. They gave him an honor escort across the Green Bridge, with Old Glory snapping in the wind, through downtown Bradenton, where he was saluted by horn-honking motorists, and home to 18th Avenue Drive West.
Quite a homecoming, indeed.
Even for a young man who spent four years with presidential helicopter Marine 1, providing security and serving on the ceremonial guard for Presidents Bush and Obama, it beat all.
“It was awesome,” Scheiding said. “There’s nothing I could’ve wanted more. It was really cool. I didn’t expect it.”
Mom, who drove a second car south with her son’s belongings, was happy to hear her arrangements with the Patriot Guard achieved the desired effect.
“I wanted it to be such a surprise for him, because he deserves it,” O’Connell said. “I was just afraid we weren’t going to make it.”
First, Scheiding’s discharge papers were hours late Monday, then his car’s radiator fan shattered in Ocala on Tuesday. So he had to jury-rig a store-bought electric fan motor and hope it’d get them home before burning up.
The Patriot Guard Riders, most of them Vietnam veterans, were happy to wait.
“This is a fun one,” said Vinnie Dryer, the road captain. “I’ve been doing this since 2008 seriously and I think I’ve been on half-a-dozen welcome homes. But I’ve also been on over 300 funerals.
“If we get a chance we get to do a welcome home, we’re going to be there. It’s 180 degrees from the normal thing. It means a lot. You get to shake the person’s hand, look him in the face and say, ‘Good job.’”
It meant a lot to Scheiding’s family, too.
“Every kid coming home should have this,” said stepfather and former Marine Dan O’Connell.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.