Chief Warrant Officer Jeffrey Barone, a United States Navy diver, received a hero's welcome by family, friends and fellow servicemen following a tour of duty in Iraq, and a distinguished career of service.
A homecoming party was held Sunday evening for Barone, formerly of Dunkirk, at the John T. Murray VFW Post 1017 - located on Deer Street in Dunkirk - after serving a year in Iraq and, more recently, a three-month stint overseas. The occasion represented the sixth such party hosted within Chautauqua County, thanks to the commitment by area veterans to recognize the service of returning troops.
"It's an ongoing thing for the county to welcome our soldiers home, or sailors or airmen," Chautauqua County Commander Marcello Rotunda explained. "We do this every time we get a chance ... to express our feelings for them serving our great nation. We can't give enough thanks, because without them we wouldn't be free."
OBSERVER Photo by Joel Cuthbert
During a party held in his honor at the John T. Murray VFW Post 1017 Sunday, Navy diver Jeffrey Barone was presented with a “freedom coin” for service to his country and representing his community. Pictured (from left to right) are VFW Post 1017 Commander Raymond Warlikowski, Joella Barone, Jeffrey Barone, President of the Ladies Auxiliary for VFW Post 1017 Joanne Warlikowski, and Chautauqua County Commander Marcello Rotunda.
Born at Brooks Memorial Hospital and a product of the Dunkirk school system, Barone said he left high school early to attain his General Equivalency Diploma (GED) and, soon after, enlist in the U.S. Navy out of Dunkirk - a choice he looks back on as the best decision he ever made. He said he entered the service to avoid jail, or a worse fate, and to get his life on the right track, which he and his wife, Joella, agreed he certainly accomplished in the Navy.
Barone praised the military and all it has allowed him to do and become, asking "where would I be if I didn't join the military?"
"I'm happy to do what I'm doing," he said, beaming confidence and authority. "A lot of people are like 'why would you go into the military. The military is all about going and killing people. You know, we're worried about you over there.' I think, most people, I want them to realize that military guys raise their hands and they go 'hey, I'm going to support and defend the constitution of the United States.' And that's one thing that we voluntarily raise our hands and say we're going to do. So, when we're fighting over there, we're doing what we want to do."
During his time served in Iraq supporting Marine Corps. units, he was awarded the Bronze Star - the fourth highest combat award in the U.S. Armed Forces - for meritous service. Despite his own heroics, however, Barone only commented on the courage and character of his fellow servicemen.
"Serving with the marines for a full year over there was a great honor," he said.
To date, Barone has spent 28 years in the service and, now, has only two years remaining until retirement. From Dunkirk, he said he will be returning to Washington, D.C., where he's currently stationed and by mid-July expects to be transferred to a mobile diving salvage unit for the remainder of his 30-year career, likely being deployed once more to the Middle East before he's done.
In addition to his wife, Barone attributed much of his success to the encouragement and support he received from his grandfather, Robert Reardon, and aunt, Donna Scanio.
"I'm very proud; Jeff is a great person," Reardon said, adding, "I'm glad he's come back."
Reardon also said he was extremely proud of the way in which Barone represented his family and community while serving his country.
Scanio echoed her father's sentiments, and said Barone has had an outstanding career in the Navy.
"It's really difficult for me to even (express) the amount of appreciation that I have for this young man," she said. "He is an absolutely phenomenal young man, who is totally responsible and done wonderful things in his life. It's hard for me to express how proud I am. I love him."
In addition to his achievements within the service, Barone is the proud father of four children: Seth, Samuel, Annelise and Grace.
Although he is only back in the area for a short time, everyone was extremely excited to see him and show their appreciation for his service, in particular, members of VFW posts throughout Chautauqua County. Rotunda and VFW Post 1017 Commander Raymond Warlikowski presented Barone with a "freedom coin" as a token of the county's appreciation for his service to the country.
"I'd like to say I hope this doesn't happen more," Warlikowski said afterward, "but the way the climate in the world is going now, this is probably going to be an ongoing thing for a long time to come."
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