TJ Gleason, 5, a student at Corron Elementary School in South Elgin, waves to the crowd Wednesday from the arms of his father, Sgt. 1st Class Tim Gleason. | Denise Moran~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 3, 2013 3:28PM
SOUTH ELGIN — Sgt. 1st Class Tim Gleason of South Elgin will always remember his 38th birthday.
After his flight arrived Wednesday morning at Midway Airport in Chicago, he received a hero’s welcome in the early afternoon at Pratts Wayne Woods in Bartlett by members of Warriors’ Watch and Patriot Guard Riders. The two groups — along with members from the Elgin, South Elgin and Bartlett police and fire departments — gave Gleason a motorcade escort to Corron Elementary School in South Elgin, where Gleason was able to surprise his oldest son, TJ, 5.
“It’s great to be back,” Gleason said. “I wanted to make this day special for TJ. He thought he still had to wait four more days before I came home. I want to thank everyone for coming out. This is overwhelming and amazing.”
“This day couldn’t be more perfect for my four grandsons and their parents,” said Gleason’s mother-in-law, Jill Wetteland of Mundelein.
Gleason’s parents are Jerry and Laura Gleason of Bartlett. Jerry is a retired lieutenant colonel who served 31 years with the Illinois National Guard.
“I’m proud of my son,” Jerry said. “I’m proud of him as both his father and as a fellow soldier. He’s done a great job.”
Gleason has served 19 years in the Army National Guard. His two deployments were both spent in Kuwait, where he worked as a Blackhawk helicopter mechanic.
Gleason grew up in Bartlett. He and his wife, Katie, have four sons: TJ; Tyler, 3; Nate, 2, and Ian, 10 months. The family lives in South Elgin. Due to his military service overseas, Gleason was not home when his oldest and youngest sons were born.
Now that he has completed two deployments overseas, Gleason will continue working as a helicopter mechanic for the Army National Guard.
Corron Elementary staff and students lined the entrance to the school and applauded Gleason as he stepped out of the van. They sang “Happy Birthday” to him followed by “God Bless America.” Local Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts from Pack 251 also came out to welcome Gleason. South Elgin resident Dan Brewster, unit commissioner for Pack 251, said he came to the celebration to support both the troops and the pack.
“I want to thank the Gleason family for being a part of our community,” said Corron Elementary Principal Rick Windle. “I’m glad that one of our parents has come home.”
Bartlett couple Alan and Jeanette Short came to the celebration.
“It’s our first time at one of these events,” said Jeanette. “We belong to the PT Cruiser Club, and this is one of our projects. My late brother, Otto Zollondz, once served in Vietnam. Today was a great way to welcome a warrior home.”
Aurora resident Bob Conrad, a former Elgin resident, is a member of Warriors’ Watch. He said he has attended 87 welcome-home celebrations over the last three years. His cousin served in the U.S. Navy for 17 years. He died only four months after he was discharged.
“We believe in giving our soldiers rock star treatment,” Conrad said. “I think Tim received that today. Our soldiers are our heroes.”