As he stood next to his family members, his arms draped over their shoulders, U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Fred Ligon kept repeating the same phrase.
“This is what got me through,” he said as dozens of friends and relatives crowded to snap photos on their phones and cameras. “This is what got me through.”
Sgt. Ligon, who has been stationed in Afghanistan since spring, returned home Wednesday night to a chorus of cheers from supporters lining Route 58.
Riverhead Town police officers escorted Sgt. Ligon, his wife. Kim, and two young children, Kimberlyn and Michaela, into town to meet the crowd.
The surprise was set up by Fran Johnson, who married into the Ligon family.
Ms. Johnson said she set up the event to give Sgt. Ligon a proper welcome home.
“I think every soldier coming home deserves a welcome,” she said. “They’re defending our country for us.”
Onlookers waved American flags and held up signs as Sgt. Ligon drove into the parking lot of Staples near the Roanoke traffic circle.
He stepped out of the SUV that brought him home and immediately fell into the embraces of family members, including his mother and father.
“Ain’t no place like home!” Sgt. Ligon told the crowd surrounding him.
As thrilled as she was to see her husband home, Ms. Ligon said her children were even happier, sitting side by side with their father on the way home.
“They cried, and he cried too,” she said.