By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- Some were headed out for their fourth or fifth tour, while other members of the Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, were saying their good-byes for the first time.
Though it’s never easy to deploy for a lengthy stint, members of the Londonderry- based Marine battalion had hundreds and hundreds of family members, friends, fellow veterans and local political leaders there to wish them safe travels and many happy returns.
A farewell ceremony at the Londonderry Armed Forces Reserve Center was held for the battalion’s 200 or so Marines — all being sent to Afghanistan for an estimated seven months.
It was standing room only in the main hall at the Reserve Center, where the room overflowed with pride, well wishes and more than a few tears.
Nashua resident John Panny, father of Lance Cpl. Josh Panny, 21, beamed with pride when faced with his son’s first deployment.
“His mother’s a lot more nervous than his dad is,” Panny said, his eyes never leaving his son’s. “This is something you try to prepare yourself for. You just want to wish them all Godspeed and try and give them the proper send-off they all deserve.”Outside, Lance Cpl. David Munn of Abington, Mass., stole a few last moments with his parents, grandparents, cousins and other relatives.
Munn’s grandparents, Ed and Diane O’Neil, drove to Londonderry from Intervale, over two hours away, to hug their first grandson before he left for what would be his first deployment.
“We wouldn’t have missed it,” Ed O’Neil said.
“We’re very proud of him today,” his wife added. “Because of our military, we are where we are right now.”
The group of deploying soldiers is from all over New England, with the majority based in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Comprised mostly of reservist Marines and sailors, active-duty personnel are also assigned to the 25th Marine Regiment to oversee training and assist with administrative and site support duties.
The Marines unit has been activated several times since 9/11: in January 2003, the battalion was activated in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was again activated in March 2006 for a seven-month stint in Iraq.
Members returned from another seven-month tour in April 2009.
Gov. John Lynch, who attended Thursday’s farewell ceremony, thanked both the soldiers and their families for their continued sacrifice to a greater cause.
Referring to last weekend’s successful mission against Osama bin Laden, Lynch was met with hearty applause when he thanked the Navy Seals, and other military members, for a job well done.
“Your mission is an important one since 9/11,” Lynch told the Marines. “And, as we all saw last Sunday, you and others in uniform are here to make the world a better, safer place.”
With that, Lynch reminded the military families not to hesitate to ask for help when needed, even half-jokingly offering his services as a babysitter.
“You can just call me,” he said and grinned.
Local legislators were unable to attend Thursday’s ceremony, with Congress in session, though offered their sentiments in the form of letters.
“Like those who’ve worn the uniform before, your efforts deserve the utmost appreciation,” Congressman Charles Bass said.
Retired Marine Al Baldasaro, a Republican state representative who also serves as chair of the Londonderry Veterans Committee, promised to fly his Marine flag on his front lawn in the unit’s absence.
“As a father who sent my own son over there last year, I know what you’re going through,” Baldasaro told the troops’ families.
“God bless you all,” he told his fellow Marines. “Now go, and give ‘em hell.”