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Former Army Sgt. Wayne U. Games returned from Iraq in 2003, but never got a welcome home celebration.
A 1987 graduate of Vineland High School, Games became seriously ill during his deployment and had to be flown directly to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was admitted to the intensive care unit suffering from high blood pressure, heart and lung problems, and had to be placed on dialysis.
Games, 42, has been classified as 90 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Most recently, he was diagnosed with Waldenstrom lymphoma.
"I never got a homecoming. I just remember getting sick, being flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, then to the United States. It took two days and when we got to Walter Reed it was nighttime and we were met by veterans who handed us some bags," said Games. "That was my homecoming."
On Dec. 16, Games received a much more appropriate welcome home and thank you from family, friends and officials who arrived at his Myrtle Street home.
The event was initiated by the "Welcome Home Committee" formed by Mayor Robert Romano to welcome back every soldier. The event was attended by Romano, as well as state Sen. Jeff Van Drew and state assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matthew Milam.
"Thank you for your service and for all you have done," Romano said.
Michael R. Francis, military representative with the office of Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., presented a certificate of appreciation from the congressman.
Games said he was overwhelmed by the special event, but his struggles after his homecoming continue.
A former casino employee at Borgata in Atlantic City, Games' illness kept him from being able to work after he returned from Iraq, according to his wife, Migdalia Games.
"He has nightmares. He can't be left alone. Every noise scares him," she said.
Games' home is a collection of photographs and memorabilia from Iraq as well as his life in the service.
He said his father, Charles, served with the 82nd Airborne.
"This was the only life I ever knew as a young man. All I ever wanted to do was to serve my country," Games said.
Games said his mother, Maria Games, signed his enlistment paperwork so he could enlist while he was still in high school.
"I couldn't wait. I just saw myself repelling down a rope out of a plane," he said.
Games served with a transport unit and his daily mission was to move soldiers, prisoners and supplies through Iraqi territory.
He said he believes his disability and possibly the cancer is related to http://www.armytimes.com/news/2012/09/military-senate-to-vote-on-burn-pit-registry-091212w/">fumes from a burn pit located near his base in Iraq.
Games said he is working with veterans groups to try to receive 100 percent disability and compensation.
"We live day to day," said Migdalia Games, who works at a bakery. "I go to work each day. Someone stays with him. We cut back on a lot. We're just trying to make ends meet."