"This is what we came for," Henry Golczynski of Murfreesboro said as 68 Marines were welcomed as heroes after serving with his son, Staff Sgt. Marc Golczynski, 30, whose April 4 funeral at Church Street Church of Christ was followed with burial in Wheel Cemetery.
"We saw them off and we saw them come home safe," said Golczynski, owner of Franklin's Printworks, the business he's developed in Murfreesboro.
The staff sergeant's mother, Elaine Huffines, teaches science at Forrest High School in Chapel Hill. She lives a few miles south of Shelbyville in Moore County on the Motlow College Road.
"Marc was transferred to another platoon ... so he didn't serve right with these guys," Huffines said as Staff Sgt. Matt Doak of Shelbyville brought remembrance bracelets to the Golczynski and Huffines families.
Among the 68 who returned to Nashville on Saturday was Sgt. Robert Schultz. On the day Golczynski died, Schultz had taken Iraqis on patrol while his friend was setting up a road block to provide security for Iraqi police, Schultz said.
Lance Cpl. Brandon Elkins, 23, of Cheatham County said he believed Golczynski's efforts to monitor the security of Marines like himself cost Golczynski his life.
"I don't think there was anybody who didn't like him," Elkins said of Golczynski.
Tears welled up in Pam Hawley of Henderson County while waiting for her 22-year-old son, Doug, when she heard one of Doug's best friends volunteered for a second tour in Iraq to keep young Marines safe.
"He thought the world of Sgt. Ski," Hawley said.
Her son confirmed it about an hour later, substantiating the Golczynski family's explanation on why their Marine returned to Iraq.
"That's exactly what he did," Lance Cpl. Doug Hawley said of his lost comrade. "I will definitely go back. Ski was a mentor to me. If there's one thing I can do to honor him, it's to go back and keep Marines safe."
Pam Hawley said that recently she looked for something among her son's things and found a note, "Call Sgt. Ski," with a phone number of the man who had reminded her son about appointments with the Marines.
There were about 3,000 people present when Golczynski returned to the Marine Corps Reserve Center in October 2004, the Marine's brother, Jon, said. He estimated the crowd at the same place on Saturday night as smaller because there were fewer Marines returning.
The homecoming for the 68 Marines was "bittersweet," said Heather Golczynski, mother of Marc Golczynski's son, Christian, 8. A scholarship fund is being established for the boy.
Henry Golczynski quoted his son from a conversation they had before he left for that last tour in Iraq; "We're making progress in rebuilding schools, police and many civil projects ... We need to fight them over there and not here."
In response to his concern for a son's safety in war, Golczynski quoted the Marine as saying, "'Dad, this is what we do.'
"If he could do it again, I'd support him."