Marine gets hero's welcome upon his return to Catlin for 3-week leave
CATLIN — As a teenager, Seth Burns looked forward to joining the Marine Corps and getting a chance to see the world.
But after a 6-month tour in Afghanistan and eight months of training troops in the Mojave Desert, he's glad to be back home, if only for a 3-week leave.
"I didn't really realize before how great a place this is," said the Marine lance corporal, who was welcomed home Tuesday by family, friends and community members at a reception at Catlin American Legion Post 776.
Burns, 20, is a rifleman in the 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment, an infantry battalion based in Twentynine Palms, Calif. The 800-member battalion was deployed to Afghanistan in February 2013, about seven months after Burns enlisted.
Burns patrolled around Kabul, a base in Musa Qala that was being closed and Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province.
"People don't realize it, but it's still an active war," said David Burns, Seth's father. He added that his son's unit went on raids and came under fire more than once. "He was in harm's way, so we're glad to have him home."
"I can only imagine what he's seen and had to do," said Seth's grandfather, Bill Henness of Paris, Ill., who is a Korean War Navy veteran.
Fortunately, the entire battalion returned to the states in September, said Sheri Burns, Seth's mother.
The war-torn country may as well be another world away from where her son grew up, she said.
The second youngest of six children, he was raised in Homer and Catlin, where his parents own and operate Long Lane Honey Bee Farms.
He was home-schooled and worked in the family business until he entered the military.
"Seth's the kind of kid who always wanted to make a difference and help other people," Sheri Burns said, adding he decided he wanted to join the Marines at a young age and began visiting the recruiter's office in Danville when he was 15.
"The recruiter said, 'Come back when you're older, kid,'" his mother recalled with a laugh. "He joined when he was 18, and we're just really proud of him."
Seth Burns got to see his parents and fiancee, Leah Faulkner of Homer, when they visited him shortly after his return to the states. But he was excited to see them and his 6-year-old brother, Christian, waiting for him at the airport in Indianapolis on Tuesday morning.
While he suspected something was up — his mother made him change out of his civilian clothing into his uniform — Burns was surprised to see three firetrucks, a couple of police squad cars and several Patriot Guard motorcycles and trucks waiting at the Lynch Road exit in Danville to escort him home. The motorcade drove through Danville, Tilton and into Catlin, where Boy Scouts had placed scores of small American flags along the route the day before.
"Welcome home, Seth!" shouted his grandmother, Virginia Henness, as he passed by in his father's pickup truck. She stood in front of the Methodist Church in Catlin, twirling a large red, white and blue umbrella.
Burns waved to his older brother David Burns of Ludlow; sister Jennifer Copass of Homer; their children; and family friends across the street. Then he was greeted by a couple dozen others, all waving and cheering, at the American Legion building.
"This is really something," Burns said after the post's vice commander presented him with a certificate from the Illinois House of Representatives thanking him for his service. While he's more low-key and doesn't like a lot of fuss, he was touched by the turnout.
"I don't feel like I'm a hero," he said. "I just see myself as a kid who's doing his job. But I just can't thank all of you enough for being here."
Burns must return to his battalion in June. He will be deployed to the Middle East again next March.
In the meantime, he's going to help Faulkner plan their Aug. 9 wedding — also her 18th birthday — and enjoy spending time with his family, which also includes sisters Jill Taylor of Foosland and Karee Marsh of Champaign.
And "I'm looking forward to relaxing, sleeping in and not having anyone tell me what to do," he said.