Generous seniors welcome home Iraqi war vet
Lawrence residents show gratitude to Marine
The fanfare Friday at Pioneer Ridge Retirement Center was more than Lance Corporal John Thoennes expected.
The 20-year-old Marine recently returned from the city of Najaf, Iraq, where he served for more than eight months helping to repair buildings and utilities damaged by war. He also helped to distribute more than $2.5 million in compensation for Iraqi citizens whose businesses were damaged or who were otherwise unable to earn money because of war in their country.
But even after all the hard work he'd put in overseas during the last year, Thoennes was the one offering thanks at the Lawrence retirement center last week. He expressed gratitude to the residents who kept him in their thoughts during his tour of duty.
While in Iraq, Thoennes was one of many to receive care packages from the residents of Pioneer Ridge. The packages included necessities such as toothbrushes, lip balm, pens and pencils, and even disposable cameras.
Eudora resident Tami Klinedinst, who works as the activities director for Pioneer Ridge, said she told the residents about Thoennes and his peers who were serving overseas as they prepared the special packages. She said getting to meet with Thoennes in person was very exciting for them.
"There are a lot of people here rooting for him," she said.
Howard Miller, a veteran of World War II, knows the value of having people back home showing their support during military service.
"It's nice that they know that somebody's thinking about them," he said.
Thoennes was presented with a certificate of honor and other tokens of appreciation at last week's gathering.
"It's great to really realize how many people care about what we are doing over there," Thoennes said to the audience of Pioneer Ridge residents. "It's such an honor to do such a service. Thank you very much for your support. It makes it worthwhile."
After the presentation while the group enjoyed cake and punch to celebrate Thoennes' safe homecoming, Pioneer Ridge resident Ronnie Lana told Thoennes of multiple prayers said to keep Thoennes and others serving in the military safe from harm.
"We always ask Him to be on your
side," she said.
To Lana, assembling the care packages was reminiscent of her experience as a child during World War II when she sent similar packages to a brother away at war.
Thoennes said the most valuable part of his service in Iraq was his increased awareness of other cultures and an exposure to a different perspective.
"I was able to see the world in a different culture -- from their point of view," he said. "It was a big eye opener."
He said he realized how little some people have in other parts of the world, compared to luxuries and conveniences that are common to more prosperous societies. He said the people of Najaf were humble and grateful for the help the soldiers provided in Iraq.
"I think they were very happy for us to be there," he said. "Especially in the city of Najaf. The citizens are very receptive."
Thoennes said he looked forward to just being with his family and friends during his 30-day visit before reporting to Camp Pendleton, Calif.
"Going to the movies -- going out to eat. The simple things," he said.
Thoennes has been a Marine for almost two years.
"It's something I always wanted to do when I was a kid," he said.
He said he had always admired an uncle, Mike Thoennes, whom he never met. His uncle was killed while serving in the military during the Vietnam War.
"The memory of him and the way he inspired my family has always inspired me," he said.
Thoennes did not know if he would again be deployed to Iraq, but said it would not happen again for at least a year.
Although he was excited to be home, Thoennes' thoughts were still with his comrades in Iraq.
"There are still guys over there," he said. "I may be back, but there are still guys over there, and they are in our thoughts."