SKIPPACK — Dozens defied a drenching rain Monday night to welcome home Lance Cpl. Michael Lentz Jr. from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Escorting the veteran of the 1st Battalion 9th Marines home from the airport were his girlfriend, Megan Mckissic, his parents Michael Lentz Sr. and Lisa Lentz, and his older brother, U.S. Army Sgt. David Lentz, who spent 15 months in Afghanistan and returned home in 2008.
Friends, family and well-wishers joined Pennsylvania State Police troopers and firefighters from Worcester Skippack, Center Square and Trappe fire deparments to greet the entourage’s arrival around 8:15 p.m. at the Blue Comet Motorcycle Club in Skippack, near the family’s home.
“The reason why this is a big deal to us is because every generation of males in our family has served,” Michael Lentz Sr., a police officer with the Oley Township Police Department in Berks County, said earlier that day. “I was a marine 26 years ago. My wife’s brother was a marine in the first Gulf war. My dad was a Vietnam veteran. My grandfather was a World War II marine. My father-in-law was in the Air Force. When our youngest son joined the Marine Corps, he knew he was going to get deployed. Both my boys, when they went over there, went in infantry units strictly as infantry in combat patrols. Probably seven or eight men were killed in my oldest son’s unit, and my youngest son lost seven marines in combat with his unit.”
Michael Lentz Jr., a Perkiomen Valley High School graduate and football star, joined the U.S. Marine Corps in July 2012 and did his basic training at Parris Island, later graduating from the School of Infantry at Camp Geiger.
On Monday night, he was honored with a challenge coin by veterans from the Warrior Riders, who also bestowed a belated award to David, now a Pennsylvania state correctional officer at Graterford Prison.
The elder Lentz himself was surprised with a coin for his 20 years of service in law enforcement.
“We’re very proud of our family tradition of service,” Michael Lentz Sr. said after a presentation from the Warrior Riders and a warm greeting from A Hero’s Welcome, the group that organized the homecoming. “My oldest son knew we were honoring his brother tonight but had no idea the veterans were ‘coining’ him for his deployment in Afghanistan.”
David had missed out on a homecoming fanfare six years ago, his dad said.
“Back when our oldest son came home, these homecomings weren’t really happening as they have since then. These welcomes have really kicked off after our oldest son was in the Army. He didn’t get the recognition when he came home in 2008, so it’s great to see him getting it now.”
Michael Lentz Jr. had been assigned to the 1st Battalion 9th Marines at Camp Lejeune as an I.A.R Gunner in the Infantry. Last September, he was deployed to Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Provence, Afghanistan, where he conducted numerous combat missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His battalion earned the moniker “The Walking Dead,” his father said.
“The Walking Dead is a very iconic unit in the Marine Corps. During the Vietnam War, The Walking Dead took more casualties than any other Marine unit. The way they became ‘The Walking Dead’ is because Ho Chi Minh made a comment that the Marines of the 1st Battalion 9th Marines were so ferocious and so hard for his men to fight, he named them with the Vietnamese term for ‘dead walking’ … that his Viet Cong were going to wipe out the Marines. So the Marines took that as a badge of honor and said, ‘We are now The Walking Dead.’”
Once deactivated, the battalion will now retire again, said Michael Lentz Sr., who called his son’s return home without injury a godsend.
“All the missions he was involved in, he is coming home without a scratch on him, thank God.”
Michael Lentz Jr.’s first order of business, his dad said, will be to catch up on his rest and then to chow down on his mom’s delectable chicken parmesan.
After he finishes two more years in the Marine Corps, he plans to follow his dad’s and brother’s path into law enforcement.
As the crowd took cover from the rain under a pavilion, Michael Lentz Jr. stood up on a picnic bench and thanked everyone for their support.
“Thank you for making me a hero today,” he said, “but remember, the heroes are the ones who didn’t come home.”
Follow Gary Puleo on Twitter @Mustangman48.