Coming home to Southold after seven months on the front lines in Afghanistan, Marine Staff Sergeant Eddie Deptola expected to be hugged often.
But he never, ever guessed he’d receive a big embrace from “Grimace,” the big, purple, fuzzy McDonald’s character.
And yet, as he stood just inside the entrance of the Mattituck McDonald’s Sunday night, that’s exactly what happened.
Knowing his affinity for the fast-food giant’s fare, Sgt. Deptola’s family staged a surprise “welcome home” party at McDonald’s.
For a man who regularly faces enemy fire in a faraway desert, Sgt. Deptola seemed stunned when he walked in with his fiancée, Heather, and children Cassandra, 4, and Edward III, 2, to find a crowd of family members and seats festooned with balloons.
“They got me good,” he said. “They orchestrated that perfectly.”
He’d only recently driven home from the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
“This was the second surprise I had,” he said. “The first was the ‘welcome home’ sign hung on the last overpass on the Expressway near the Tanger Mall.”
A down-to-earth guy, Sgt. Deptola had no interest in frequenting fancy eateries while on leave.
“He’d always say how much he missed McDonald’s,” said his mother, Laura, who conspired with his sister, also Laura, in planning the party.
“They probably got sick of hearing it,” the sergeant said. “That’s the one thing over there that I really missed.”
A 2003 Southold High School graduate and former NJROTC cadet, Sgt. Deptola serves in the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines weapons company as a scout sniper platoon sergeant.
“The war over there is pretty much a sniper war,” he said. “We’re getting shot at on a daily basis and we put ourselves in harm’s way on purpose.”
During his seven-month tour, one member of his platoon was killed and six were injured.
“We’d go out in the middle of the night and begin observing as soon as the sun went up,” he said. “The enemy would be shooting from 1,000 yards away from a 12-inch hole in a wall.”
His seven months there seemed a lot longer, he said, “But when you get home it seems so quick and everything is just a blur.”
He’ll remain stateside, deployed at Camp Lejeune, until November 2013. What comes after that is not known.
“Hopefully back to Afghanistan,” the sergeant said.
His family isn’t thinking about that now.
“He’s home and he’s safe,” his mom said. “That’s what matters.”