BIG ROCK – Army Pfc. Craig Everhart expected to go straight home for rest and relaxation when his family picked him up from O’Hare International Airport.
Instead, the ride Saturday took a detour through Sugar Grove, where police officers and firefighters from surrounding counties – along with members and military veterans of Warriors’ Watch Riders – greeted him with American flags, cheers, handshakes and salutes.
“It feels very good to be home,” Everhart said. “I wasn’t expecting all this. It was a big surprise.”
Everhart is on 30-day leave from the Army, where he has spent the past nine months serving in Afghanistan.
The welcome party served as a hero’s homecoming, forming a celebratory procession from the Sugar Grove police department down Route 30 to Hinkley-Big Rock High School, where Everhart graduated in 2009 and earned a baseball Golden Glove his junior year.
The formation consisted of the Everhart family, accompanied by about 15 motorcycles, a handful of squad cars and two lime-green Big Rock fire engines. American flags flew in abundance from each vehicle down the line, while horns and sirens wailed.
Everhart’s parents were beyond ecstatic.
“It means everything,” said his mother, Kim Everhart. “We have missed him terribly and couldn’t be happier to see him.”
His father, Bob Everhart, was extremely proud of him.
“It’s a huge relief to have him home,” he said.
Onlookers gathered roadside to wave, cheer and take pictures in support of the soldier’s return. The parade ended at Big Rock Park District, where a crowd of 30 to 40 friends, family and community members waited to welcome Craig Everhart home.
Ride coordinator John Azoo presented Everhart with a red, white and blue star on behalf of the Warriors’ Watch Riders for his services.
“We’re just proud to show our respect for a local hero,” Azoo said. “It’s a real honor to give him this warm homecoming.”
Warriors’ Watch Riders rode in from all over northern Illinois, some from as far as Chicago.
“We come from far and wide to support our veterans,” Azoo said.
Everhart has eight more months to serve in Afghanistan before returning home for good. Then, he plans to follow in his mother’s footsteps and pursue a career as a police officer.