NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A Wilmington Marine received a hero's welcome Wednesday morning.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Ellis has spent the past 30 years serving his country in the Marine Corps.
He is responsible for making sure troops get overseas and back safely, which means he's the first to deploy and the last to return.
Lt. Col. Ellis had never had a big homecoming, so his wife, Theresa, decided to make his last trip home special; neighbors and friends woke up early to surprise him.
"When we pulled in and I saw the cars and the people, I really couldn't understand what everybody was doing, and then it started to sink in," said Lt. Col. Ellis.
The original plan was to have neighbors and friends lining the streets of the neighborhood, off Military Cutoff, but Lt. Col. Ellis arrived in Camp Lejeune earlier than expected after a long trip from Kuwait.
Theresa worked to stall him on their ride home to Wilmington, but they still arrived before many of their friends had gotten a chance to gather. That didn't stop the neighbors from giving him a surprise welcome. While Ellis was in the back of the house for a few minutes, people trickled in through the front door. He had a full crowd waiting when he walked into his living room around 7 o'clock AM.
Some neighbors brought their children over before getting onto the school bus so they could take a minute to thank Lt. Col. Ellis for his service.
Members of the local Mustang Club also made up part of the group that gathered for the celebration. After the crowd died down, the Lt. Col. and his wife had a chance to take their Mustang for a spin around the block.
Lt. Col. Ellis said he's happy to retire and have more time with his wife and daughter, but he'd serve forever if the Marine Corps would let him.
"At the end of the day, it really is about something that's bigger than all of us, and that's America," said Ellis. "And there's nothing I wouldn't do for America."