Matthew DelaPaz, Marine from Fellsmere, returns home to community's embrace

Riding in the car down Country Road 512 in Fellsmere, Staff Sergeant Matthew DelaPaz has no idea what's to come. However, his wife, the driver, does.

 

Then, it starts to dawn on the Marine, whose last visit home was in October, and his face lights up. The corners of his mouth creep up. Surprise fills his eyes. He realizes the motorcade accompanying them, with the 30 or so motorcycles, is just the beginning. 

 

More than 100 people, many strangers, standing outside the Snack Shack restaurant, celebrate his arrival. Some wave flags and jump in excitement for the 28-year-old who's been deployed five times over the last 10 years.

 

Matthew served as a combat rifleman in Afghanistan for seven months and then an infantry leader in Hawaii for a month before coming home.

 

"It was crazy, and I didn't know so many people cared. I really didn't," said Matthew, of the homecoming surprise.

 

"It felt so great. I was just so happy, and I know how happy he is," said Matthew's wife, Brandie, 26.

 

Matthew served in Iraq twice, Afghanistan twice, and Cuba and Chile once.

 

Perhaps no one was more excited to see Matthew home than his kids: Priscilla, 7, Matthew, 5, and Alice, 2. 

 

"I love you daddy," said Priscilla.

"Love you too, princess," Matthew responded.

"I love you, daddy," the younger Matthew chimed in.

"Love you too, buddy," said Matthew.

 

"He actually jumped up and jumped on him," said Priscilla, describing her brother's excitement in action, when he saw his dad at home for the first time in about eight months.

 

"Big hug and kiss for him," the boy said with a smile.

 

Matthew is home for 30 days of leave. That's 30 days he gets to enjoy with his beautiful wife and children. They're going to Disney World and Washington, DC. They'll ooh and ah over the Fourth of July fireworks from the White House lawn.

 

And if the DelaPaz family needed any more reason to celebrate, Monday happened to be the 10th anniversary of the day Matthew enlisted.

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