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"Residents, out-of-towners flock to base"

"J.R. Baker, a retired educator, was miffed by the media, who he said got all the front row seats. Fred Stillwell, a retired Navy commander, thought the event was well planned.Those who attended Saturday's return of the Whidbey 24 to Naval Air Station Whidbey - including many residents of Oak Harbor, but also a number of visitors from throughout the region - may have differed in their perspectives, but all seemed to agree on one thing: The homecoming was a plus for everyone.Regina Bradley, whose husband is based at the air station, said she showed up with year-old daughter Kalyn to acknowledge an often under-appreciated part of the community.Those in the military don't get this kind of credit too often, Bradley said. They did a good thing up there.What they went through, just what they guys up there did ... it's a scary situation, she said. It took a lot of courage.It was very great to be part of this, said Marie Buch, a native of the Philippines. This is history ... it makes you feel so proud of America.Buch, a Navy wife whose husband is currently deployed at sea, felt the homecoming - which air station officials had announced beforehand would be less flashy than a full hero's welcome - offered the right mix of fanfare and intimate time for the EP-3E aircrew and their families.They're like family to us, Buch said, adding the event helped show her children the importance, and drama, of what the crew did.What they did was very historic, she said. It's amazing.Josephine Paquia, Buch's friend who herself is a Navy wife and recent Filipino immigrant, said the homecoming made her feel more inspired about her new chosen homeland. It makes me feel a little bit like an American, said an enthusiastic Paquia, who is waiting to get her U.S. citizenship.This is one of the biggest things to happen here, said Chris Ferrell, 30, a father of four who has been stationed at the air base for three years. We wanted our kids to witness history ... that could be me someday, in harm's way.I am so excited this ended peacefully, said John Linemans, decked out in a glitzy Uncle Sam outfit with a tall tophat. The former member of the Dutch Army proudly proclaimed he was an American by choice. We hope the 24 notice the support from the community, said Linemans' wife, Paula. It just seemed like the thing to do.Supporters come from throughout the SoundDave and Yvonne Lindquist and their 3-year-old granddaughter Monique were among those who traveled great distances to welcome the aircrew home. The trio drove an hour from their home in Lynden, near Bellingham in Whatcom County, then waited at the gate of the base for 45 minutes to witness the festivities. The Lindquists said they had followed the crew's story from the beginning.All this stuff hits home, Yvonne Lindquist said. Their son is a U.S. Army company commander at Fort Benning, Ga.John Blonsick, a retired airline pilot from Coupeville, mingled with the crowd, wearing a fight jacket adorned with squadron patches and a Navy ballcap. He said that he frequently chats online with former military members. Blonsick pointed out that that many of the chat room correspondents disliked the yellow ribbons used predominantly by crew supporters because yellow is not the color of warriors.Then again, he added, if people want to put up yellow ribbons and things in support, then God bless them. Ed Antanavage, an active-duty member of the Army, brought his entire young family from Tacoma, including wife Colleen, their daughters Ann and Erin, and their 19-month-old son, Hunter. The family waved American flags as they waited for the plane. To honor the crew, Hunter even wore a white sailor's cap, which Colleen said she purchased at the Navy base in Bremerton.Leather-clad Harley Davidson motorcyclists Jerry and Teddi Gilman of Tacoma joined the crowd, along with their friend Tom Ippolito of Falls City.The Gilmans rode in on their red Harley decorated with the American flag, the POW flag, and the MIA flag. Jerry Gilman served in the Army from 1979 to 1983.Ippolito's yellow Harley was equally adorned. He served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam conflict, pulling Embassy duty.Both the Gilmans and Ippolito said they felt unwavering support for U.S. military personnel. However, the three were markedly more critical of President George W. Bush, who they said should have taken a harder stand against the Chinese.I think he was too soft, Jerry Gilman said. He didn't do a thing.You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.You can reach News-Times reporter Erik Derr at 675-6611. "

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