Pete Pavia and his son Alex both have Purple Hearts from combat they saw in two different wars.
Pete has a rare cancer that he’s pretty sure is a souvenir from the Agent Orange he was exposed to in Vietnam.
Alex has anxiety attacks and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury after being “blown up several times” during a recent Army tour in Afghanistan, once by an improvised explosive device and once by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Yet both men said Tuesday that they count their blessings as Alex was welcomed home to Plainfield with a motorcade of flag-flying cars and motorcycles organized by Operation Welcome You Home and Warriors' Watch Riders.
“I feel like the luckiest man alive,” Pete Pavia said as a throng of well-wishers encircled the doorstep of his northwest Plainfield home.
Alex Pavia, 21, an Army private first class and Plainfield North High School graduate, has been in Afghanistan since last summer, serving as a forward observer with radio equipment in Kandahar.
He won’t forget helping local children, handing out basics such as shoes and food, he said.
“The things we take for granted …,” he said.
His parents describe the younger Pavia as an athletic young man with a sarcastic sense of humor. He played high school football and baseball and was a conference champion in wrestling.
Alex says he is ready to savor some home comforts, looking forward to eating good food and getting some R&R. Those things may help ease the anxiety attacks he gets when he hears loud noises, such as the fireworks that were set off as the procession made its way into his neighborhood, he said.
His fiancée, Ashley Kulp, posed by his side as well-wishers snapped photos. Alex Pavia will return to Fort Carson Army Base in Colorado to serve another two years in the Army, then plans to study to become a radiology technician.
“My dad is the reason I went into the service,” he said. “He served his country and I wanted to do the same.”
Pete Pavia, a local butcher who received a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his service in the Army artillery and infantry divisions from 1968 to 1970, was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the salivary gland in January.
Pavia and his wife Rosemary, a nurse at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, say doctors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs don’t know if the source is the Agent Orange that blanketed the Central Highlands of Vietnam or the ammonia fumes that flared in a backlash of smoke when his armored tank fired. Pavia came home in February when Pete faced major surgery.
Pam Lofrano, of Plainfield, was joined by her daughter Pam Olson and grandchildren, Jake and Samantha, as they waved flags and “Welcome Home” signs as part of the procession organized in the Meijer’s supermarket parking lot on Route 59. Lofrano brought a book written by her late husband Chuck about his Vietnam military service that she planned to give to Pete Pavia.
“We came out to let all the servicemen know we appreciate their sacrifice,” she said.
Father and son were presented with "quilts of honor" by Rich Marello, of Aurora, commandant of the Fox Valley Marines, who noted that the receptions Vietnam soldiers used to get were far different than this one.
“Hey, when you guys came home, they treated you like crap,” Marrello said. “It’s time you got the welcome you deserve.”
The important thing was that he came home, Pete Pavia said.
“We got out of there, didn’t we boys?” he said.