SYCAMORE – Sunday afternoon's 30-degree temperatures didn't deter about a dozen motorcyclists, Sycamore police and fire vehicles, and numerous other well-wishers from welcoming home sailor Andy Branson.
Organized as a surprise by his grandfather, Sycamore resident Bob Stanbery, Warriors' Watch Riders escorted Branson, his girlfriend and his entire family to a party at the Sycamore VFW.
Among those braving the icy wind were first-time escort riders Chris and Jaime Shuman of Sycamore.
"She saw this on Facebook this morning and suggested we get the bike out of storage," Chris Shuman said. "I was shocked she was OK with doing this as cold as it is.
"We just wanted to come out and support a service member."
Tony "Cowboy D" Diller of Janesville, Wis., arrived in a Warriors' Watch support vehicle.
"Anyone can do this," Diller said. "Yesterday I was in Lake Zurich and the escort was close to 3 miles long."
An Army veteran, Diller said all veterans need support.
"It kills me that Vietnam veterans were spat on when they came home," Diller said. "Vets need to know they have the support of people here at home 24/7."
"I was really surprised," Andy Branson said. "When I heard sirens, I thought they were coming to get my brother."
His parents, Sherry and Wayne Branson of Belvidere, were in on the surprise.
"The ruse was that he was just coming here for pizza," Sherry Branson said. "I'm very touched at the support today. It's very much appreciated."
A 2007 graduate of Belvidere High School, Petty Officer 2nd Class Andy Branson served six years with the U.S. Navy – the past four on the USS Abraham Lincoln as a nuclear engineer. Stanbery an Army veteran who served during the Korean War, got a warm – if somewhat belated – welcome home, at the VFW, as well.
Andy Branson said he has two weeks left on his six-year contract. He's taking leave time to finish out his service.
"I'm just going to relax for a couple of weeks," Andy Branson said. "Then I'll be starting a job at Powerhouse Boilers in Philadelphia."
Andy Branson said his girlfriend, Sing Ho, who met while stationed in Norfolk, Va., also works in Philadelphia.
"I just want to thank you all for coming out," Andy Branson said. "It just shows me what I was out there fighting for."