Pleasant Gap soldier’s family rolls out star-spangled welcome home

Joe Wenzel missed his daughter’s first two flute concerts while on active duty in Kuwait.

He’ll be back for the third.

Wenzel is expected to return to his Pleasant Gap home Friday after about eight months of active duty, and his wife, Hope Wenzel, is relieved. Her sister and neighbor, Helen Packer, decorated the length of Spruce Street with American flags to welcome him home.

“He’ll be flattered,” Hope said of the street adornments, “but it won’t really surprise him because my sister will do things like this.”

Hope Wenzel said her husband will be excited to see their two girls, and she hopes the family is able to acclimate quickly. While he was away, the pattern could slip into “out of sight, out of mind,” she said, but she would always try to keep reminders like photos around, even setting a microwave clock to Kuwait time.

The two girls are in their summer vacation now, so Joe Wenzel will have ample opportunity to spend a good amount of time with them before they go back to school.

Packer also will be happy to see her brother-in-law return home safety and wanted to make sure he is welcomed back the same way he left — with the flags.

She said Joe Wenzel would always be around to take care of her elderly mother, who passed away last year. Though their family is large, she only has one biological brother.

Joe is like her second.

“Joe is just like a brother of my own,” she said. “We love him, and we miss not seeing him there and having him home.”

Even just knowing that he is back in the country and safe is helpful for peace of mind, Packer said.

Hope Wenzel is a stay-at-home mom, but the transition was still tough at times for her. She said if she was still in her early 20s it would have been nearly impossible.

She helps other families who are getting ready for their spouses to leave, but she still had some curveballs experiencing it for the first time. She said she would have done some minor things differently in preparation if it were to happen again, but said mostly the eight months went by without a major hitch.

Next month, the family and close friends will get together for an open house to really give Wenzel a welcome home. But until then, the flags and signage will have to be enough.

“It looks beautiful seeing the flags fluttering in the breeze,” Packer said.