Family welcomes son home from war in Iraq

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 4, 2003

VIDALIA &045; Donna Eliser cried tears of joy Sunday evening, as about 40 friends and relatives welcomed her 20 year-old son, Lance Corporal Bruce Wiley, home from Iraq.

&uot;This is a very proud moment Šthank you, God, for bringing him home,&uot; Eliser said before the group celebrated the young Marine’s return with a backyard swimming party and barbecue.

The gathering took place in Vidalia at the home of Wiley’s grandparents, Margie and Ed Bruce.

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Yellow ribbons adorned the huge oak trees in the yard, where the Bruces have awaited Wiley’s return since he shipped out to the Middle East with the Fifth

Marine Regiment eight months ago.

&uot;I’m very glad to have him back, and I don’t want to lose him again,&uot; Margie Bruce said.

Wiley’s first impression when he stepped off the plane in Kuwait in January was one of disbelief.

&uot;It didn’t seem real.

Except for the wind, it was quiet in the streets &045; like the calm before the storm,&uot; he said.

By mid-March, Wiley was pushing northward through Iraq with his fellow troops to Baghdad and beyond, learning quickly about a foreign land and its people.

&uot;Originally, our state-of-mind was that they were not our friends.

But gradually we accepted that they were not all bad,&uot; Wiley said.

He remembers Iraqi women crying in response to their newfound freedom after U. S. troops toppled Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad.

After Sadaam’s regime was ousted, Wiley said the mission quickly changed for U. S. forces.

&uot;Under Sadaam, it was like the mafia was running the country.

Now it’s just anarchy,&uot; he said.

For the last few months of his tour, Wiley’s unit has tried to provide a stable environment for hospitals, schools and police forces to reestablish their operations in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah.

It was dangerous work in a chaotic country where the enemy is not always clearly identified, but Wiley said he is glad he had a chance to serve.

&uot;It was an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

But I’m glad we did it.

Sadaam was a tyrant that needed to be taken out,&uot; he said.

The family heard from Wiley by occasional letters and just a few phone calls.

&uot;We didn’t hear from him much, but like a true Marine, he never once complained,&uot; grandmother Margie said.

Wiley is enjoying a 30-day leave before he reports to his permanent base at Camp Pendleton, Ca.

He has two years left to serve on his enlistment.