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The homecoming he earned: Vietnam veteran's remains escorted to family's home in NWI
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The homecoming he earned: Vietnam veteran's remains escorted to family's home in NWI

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HAMMOND — Veterans lined up Wednesday to give a decorated Navy photographer who served in Vietnam the homecoming he never had.

Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Martin J. "Marty" Rust grew up in Chicago's Southwest Side and served in the U.S. Navy from January 1967 to September 1971.

He died Sept. 27 in Connecticut, family member Jacqueline Agee said.

A U.S. Air Force officer flew Wednesday with Rust's remains to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, where she was met by Rust's cousin Joanne Alexander and her daughter Agee, of St. John.

Veterans holding American flags lined an aisle in the parking lot of the Hammond Cabela's as members of Rust's family arrived with an escort.

The group said a few words before dozens of motorcyclists and other drivers continued the ride to Agee and Alexander's home in St. John.

All along the way, from the East Coast to St. John, hundreds of people — many of whom Rust's family didn't know — stood up to give him a proper escort, Agee said.

"I said to one of them, 'He finally got the respect and honor he deserved,'" she said. "But the veteran corrected me, and said, 'No, he earned this honor, and he earned this respect.'"

Rust, 74, was the type of man who would give you the shirt off his back, said Alexander, who shook the hand of every veteran lined up to welcome Rust home outside Cabela's.

"He was just the kind of person that you look for through your life to have as a friend, no matter if you don't talk to him for five years or 10 years," she said. "He was just an awesome guy."

Rust served aboard the USS Enterprise at one point in his Navy career. He earned a National Defense Service Metal, a Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze service stars and several other awards.

He was an easygoing man who loved to cook and once owned a restaurant in Florida, Agee said.

"Uncle Marty was a very happy gay man, and he never tried to hide it," she said. "I always knew Uncle Marty had a boyfriend, and to me, it was just completely normal."

Martin Rust and his brother Mark Rust both served in the Navy during Vietnam, she said.

Shortly after their return, Mark Rust was killed in a motorcycle crash.

Martin Rust distanced himself from the family after his brother's death, Agee said. 

About three years ago, he began to reconnect with the family and often texted with Alexander or talked on the phone or via Facetime.

When officials in Connecticut contacted Alexander to inform her of Rust's death, a funeral home employee suggested he be cremated and mailed home, Agee said.

Alexander said, "He's not going to be mailed home," Agee recalled.

Agee put a call out on social media for help, and active duty and military veterans stepped up, she said.

The Connecticut Patriot Guard escorted Rust's remains from the morgue to a funeral home. The Air Force officer volunteered to fly, with Rust's ashes in her lap, from Connecticut to O'Hare.

Indiana Patriot Guard, Veteran Reaction Force, Operation Combat Bikesaver and Mission One organized the escort and homecoming ceremony Wednesday.

On Dec. 18, Indiana Patriot Guard will again escort Rust's family to the Illinois/Indiana state line, and Illinois Patriot Guard will complete a ride to Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois, where some of Rust's remains will be interred during a military burial, Agee said.

The rest of Rust's ashes will be buried with Alexander upon her death, along with Alexander's husband's ashes, Agee said.

"Mom, when she found out, she felt like Uncle Marty had been alone for so long, her initial reaction was to keep him with her," she said. "I was instructed to place his ashes and dad's ashes in her casket with her."

Tuesday marked the five-year anniversary of Alexander's husband's death, Agee said.

The homecoming for Rust was important because Vietnam veterans weren't welcomed back upon their return to the States, she said.

"This is his home. This is his family," she said. "I know he kind of left and went to Connecticut, but his family is here."

Famous Hoosiers throughout the years

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