BIG ROCK – Army Pfc. Craig Everhart expected to go straight home for some rest and relaxation when his family picked him up from O’Hare 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 last 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 Golden Glove in baseball his junior year.
The formation consisted of the Everhart family, accompanied by about fifteen 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 to have him home.
“It means everything,” his mother, Kim Everhart, said. “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," Bob Everhart said.
Onlookers gathered roadside to wave, cheer and take pictures in support of the soldier’s return. The patriotic parade came to a halt at Big Rock park district, where a crowd of 30 to 40 friends, family, and community members were waiting 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,” said Azoo. “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.
“It’s a very large, proud organization,” added Azoo. “We come from far and wide to support our veterans.”
Everhart has eight more months to serve in Afghanistan before returning home for good. Then, he plans on following in his mother’s footsteps and pursuing a career as a police officer.