20-year Honey Brook veteran surprised by A Hero’s Welcome

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Minarik was surprised by riders of A Hero’s Welcome during his 20-year military retirement party on May 27.
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Minarik was surprised by riders of A Hero’s Welcome during his 20-year military retirement party on May 27. Submitted photo — Rachael Gilligan
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Minarik and his wife and family were surprised by riders of A Hero’s Welcome during his 20-year military retirement party.
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Minarik and his wife and family were surprised by riders of A Hero’s Welcome during his 20-year military retirement party. Submitted photo — Rachael Gilligan

A Hero’s Welcome roared through Honey Brook to surprise Owen J. Roberts alumnus Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Minarik at his 20-year military retirement party on May 27.

After two years of study at Alvernia University, Minarik joined the Army at age 19, following in the footsteps of family members. He retired from the U.S. Army after 20 years of service on April 30.

To honor his service, A Hero’s Welcome came thundering to his home and declared May 27, His Official Day, as proclaimed by the mayor and presented Minarik with a framed certificate.

“I never had my own day before,” said Minarik. “I always thought I was just doing my job. I loved it. I was with the 1-14 Calvary. From the beginning we all had each other’s back.”

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He served as an information system specialist, in places including Ft. Hood, Texas; Fort Lewis, Wa., and Fort Gordon, Ga. He met and fell in love with his future wife, Rebecca, at age 22 while stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas; she was four years his senior and the mother of four. They married knowing that they could not have their own children since she had a tubal ligation. He was deployed to Hungry, Iraq and overseas to Korea. The family grew after Becky had a tubal reversal in 2004, and after his return from Iraq, the Minariks became parents of their own two children. Both Adriana and Braedon were born with special needs and were there to celebrate their dad’s coming home.

“I am glad to be home,” he said.

Minarik said he got a job with a company that hires veterans, U.S. Health Advisors, in Quakertown.

He knew about the big retirement party with more than 70 guests gathered; but he didn’t know about the surprise of the day that was unfolding. A Hero’s Welcome brought more than 15 motorcycles and riders to the party, which was prearranged by his mother, Bridget Ketchell.

Tears flowed steadily as son Braedon, sang the National Anthem, with a megaphone. Braedon said, “I feel happy.”

“We are here to make your day,” Ride Captain Tom Manning announced as he read off his medals and awards, including Army Commendation Medal two times, Army Achievement Medal five times, Army Good Conduct Medal six times, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, and NATO Medal.

“How about that hero, how about a shout out,” he shouted. The crowd clapped and cheered.

A Hero’s Welcome is a national organization founded in 2007 that ensures all service members get the proper welcome home. In addition to honoring Minarik, they also surprised six other family members that day, three active duty and three veterans.

“We put out a call to first responders and motorcycle groups from Southeastern Pennsylvania chapters, Hogs and Heroes, the Second Brigade, Rolling Thunder, and Warriors Watch Riders to rally in Morgantown at 3:15 and Kick Stands up at 3:45 to leave for Honey Brook,” said PA Chapter Director Brenda Hecklin. “Ride Captain Tom Manning and his wife Eileen took it from there.”

All received a certificate of recognition along with a Star for Our Troops from adopted sister organization, The Major Stuart Adam Wolfer Institute. The Wolfer family lost a son in 2008 and carries on his memory through military support groups and projects like this.

The star is hand cut and prepared from retired flags. It is embroidered then encased in plastic with a passage, “I am a part of our American flag, that has flown over a home in the U.S.A. I can no longer fly. The sun and the wind have caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that YOU are not forgotten.”

“You are a true American warrior,” they were told and presented with “Beads for our Heroes” in the tradition of the American Indian. It is a multi-colored strand of the beads: gold for gold star families who lost a member; blue for blue star families with one or more member serving, black for POWs & MIAs; Red for blood that was shed; white for purity of the cause; and blue for the heavens above.

The Philadelphia Eagles sent a football autographed by Jordan Matthews #81 and a program signed by Carson Wentz, #11.

And then the riders were gone like smoke rolling out as they rolled in.

Guests milled about the yard with a big party tent; a Sabatinos Food Truck from West Chester was serving steak sandwiches, French fries, pizza, etc.; there were tables of salads, cheeses, chips, and more prepared by family and friends, sitting in front of the traditional sheet cake.

“May I have everyone’s attention. We will babysit while you take a honeymoon,” said Bridget Ketchell addressing her son and his wife as they opened a money envelope from their family and friends. “You can go anywhere you want!”

She shared with the Tri County Record that after 17 years of trials, deployments and medical problems, they never asked for anything but their support. She explained, in addition to the children’s special needs, Rebecca is diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, a painful condition. After several brain surgeries to help her symptoms, since it is not curable, she is hopeful that now living in Pennsylvania, she can find a neurologist with a different treatment plan.

Mamma Mia, his grandmother, said, “I am 91 years old and so proud. The day he was born they called me at the bakery and I screamed it’s a boy. He grew up to be this big hugger and Army strong man with six kids and two grandchildren and he’s only 39.”

His Godfather Jimmy Kenney added, “He served his country well. Our hopes and prayers go out to all that serve in hopes that someday they will have a day like this celebration for Matt.”

“This is so exhilarating, just a wonderful day with all these people here celebrating my husband, Amazing,” summed up his wife Rebecca.

The community continued honoring Minarik on Memorial Day. Serving as Grand Marshalls of the Honey Brook Memorial Day Parade, Minarik, his wife and three of their six children, Cameron, 20; Adriana, 11, and Braedon, 9, rode down Main Street in the new Honey Brook Fire Company fire truck.