Pa. National Guardsman, 60, gets hero’s welcome on return from Afghanistan
Cote, a 60-year-old former East Vincent police chief, was overcome with emotion when he saw the reception waiting for him at the Spring City Armory Oct. 23.
“Wow,” he repeated upon stepping out of his escort vehicle, looking at each person in the crowd that swelled around him: a sea of smiling faces, whirling United States flags and hand-crafted welcome home signs.
Spring City and Royersford fire companies raised a flag arch over the armory’s driveway and American Legion members stood by with the honor guard.
When the crowd’s cheering began to quiet, Cote expressed his gratitude.
“There’s not much to say but ‘Thank you.’” he said. “I’m certainly humbled by this.”
Cote served as the chief of police in East Vincent in the 1980s, and served more than 37 years in the National Guard. In late 2011, he got news he would be able to go to Afghanistan, and he wanted the opportunity. But because of his age he had to get a special waiver.
Chief Warrant Officer Michael Murphy, a longtime friend of Cote’s who is stationed at the Spring City Armory, explained that “it’s a big thing for someone who’s 60 years old (to be) in action” in the military.
Murphy called Cote a “rare, special individual,” and said “You don’t (easily) find someone like that to have that dedication to their country in service.”
Cote now lives in Florida with his wife, Katherine, and their 7-year-old son Reagan. However, much of his family lives in the northeast, including his daughter, Beth Wheeler, and Beth’s daughter, Ryanne, 6, who was ecstatic to see her “PopPop.”
Wheeler said her father is an exceptional person and seeing the reception from so many people who love him Tuesday was overwhelming.
“It feels so good to know we’re all so proud of him,” she said.
Katherine Cote said going off to serve in Afghanistan was something her husband “needed to do, and nothing I was going to say was going to change his mind.”
His being overseas for more than 10 months “wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be,” she said, acknowledging all the day to day things that she missed having him there for.”
That said, she was “extremely proud” of his accomplishment, and thrilled to have him home.
Chief Cote said he appreciated his wife and the rest of his family for allowing him to go off and serve his country. He noted that his job was easier than there’s as “there were enough things to keep me focused” in Afghanistan.
He said he was tasked to be a logistics advisor and worked 15-hour days. The months “flew by,” he said.
He acknowledged that heading to Afghanistan isn’t in the cards for many 60-year-olds, but “I’ve been blessed with good health.”
Cote said he was also blessed with the welcome home he received, and explained that when he got off the plane and was making his way up the corridor carrying his duffle bags, a “bunch of people came up to me and said, as they normally say, ‘Thank you for your service.”
Cote replied with the routine “Proud to serve,” when one man grabbed him by the shoulder.
“He said, ‘You realize the reception you’re getting is different than the one I got,’” Cote recalled.
That man had served in Vietnam.
“It puts everything into perspective,” Cote said. “This is great; hometown people, family, this is great. But keep in mind that people came back from other wars and they weren’t treated so nice.”