Hearing the sirens coming down Lake Shore Drive in Cary, Cody Lerum wondered whether he was in trouble.
Lerum’s friends and family were outside the home of his mother and stepfather, celebrating his 21st birthday and his return from a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan.
“It started off with my sister saying, ‘We have a surprise for you. I need everyone over here,’ ” he said. “I thought it was going to be a big picture, and then I heard the cop sirens and I was like, ‘Are they taking me to jail? I don’t really want to go to jail on my 21st birthday.’ ”
The police car accompanied by about a dozen motorcyclists pulled in front of the house, hooting, whistling and laying on their horns.
It was the Warriors’ Watch Riders, a troop support group that frequently provides motorcycle escorts or surprises to veterans who return home.
Just this weekend, the group that covers the northwest suburbs has seven or eight on the schedule, ride coordinator Cheryl Riley said.
“They all need to know that they’re supported,” Riley said. “They [need to] know that what they’re doing is not in vain. It’s just to thank them and let them know that we’re here for them and we support what they’ve chosen to do, that they wear the boots that not all of us can wear.”
As the riders and the party’s attendees circled around, Riley, whose son has been in the Marines for 13 years, presented Lerum with a string of beads – explaining the significance of each color – and a bottle of UV Blue vodka.
The brand was suggested by Lerum’s sister, Shelby, 22, who arranged the surprise and along with her mother, Sue Singer, started crying when the riders showed up.
“It’s been very hard,” Singer said. “He’s my baby. He nearly died twice – meningitis and he got hit by a car.”
Lerum, an artillery specialist with the Army, was stationed in southern Afghanistan. He left out a lot of details in calls to his mother, but since he came home a week ago, he’s been sharing photos and more stories.
“Once you leave and come back, you really understand what you have in this country, this beautiful country, the United States of America,” Lerum said. “Over there, you really realize how much you love America.”
Lerum graduated from Crystal Lake South High School after spending two years at McHenry West High School. He has a year left on his contract.
“It’s extremely hard,” said Lerum’s grandmother, Linda Luttrell. “You worry every day. When you hear he’s back in the States, you’re so relieved because he’s home safe and you feel bad for the ones that didn’t.”