Old fashioned Thanksgiving for 300 troops

CHERRY HILL, N.J. - November 24, 2011

It was a dramatic show of patriotic pride as hundreds of motorcycles escorted seven buses full of soldiers to a surprise Thanksgiving dinner at a hotel in Cherry Hill.

And when the 270 troops from Joint base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst got off those buses, they were greeted by a huge, cheering crowd forming an honor guard to welcome and thank them for their service.

"I almost started crying to be honest," said one soldier.

Some are just home after a tour in Iraq, others are heading to Afghanistan soon, and as they made their way through the line of grateful strangers offering hugs and high-fives, the soldiers and sailors were touched.

"This is going to be my third time mobilizing and we've had some stuff at the base, but never like a whole community turnout," said Sgt. George Luedkte. "This is just amazing."

"It blew my mind ma'am, the escorts and everything. It's amazing. I thank everyone for coming out, all the support," said Petty Officer Adam Henry.

"I'll tell you what it's amazing. This is my 3rd deployment back home, and this is the biggest welcoming I've ever had," Sgt. Henry Palma.

The 8th Annual Jeremy Kane Feed the Troops Thanksgiving Celebration is hosted by the Jewish War Veterans, and is named after a local soldier who was killed in action last year.

The goal is to treat soldiers to a great dinner when they are far from home.

"We know that these young people would rather be home with their loved ones, but since they can't do that, we become their family," said Commander Harold Waitsman.

"My wife and daughter are in Japan right now, so it's really tough to be away, but again, I'm proud to serve my country," said Sgt. Rolando Decker.

"The best thing we've had in like 8 or 9 months," said another soldier.

The soldiers who recently returned from Iraq were feasting on their turkey dinners and were more than grateful.

"It doesn't come out of a bag or a chow hall," said Sgt. David Reeder. "These guys went to a lot of trouble to make this and it's good."

It's not the same as being home for the holiday, but the hope is that it would be one Thanksgiving the soldiers and sailors will never forget.

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