Editor’s note: Were you in suspense after reading Saturday night’s article about Lance Cpl. Matthew Rodgers on PostLocal.com? Here’s the rest of the story.
For Gaithersburg Marine, a surprise homecoming
The proclamation was in the mayor’s hands. The marching band, all warmed up. The firetruck and police cars stood on call. And Pinky and Pepe Rodgers were in their beer and wine store in the Kentlands shopping complex, wondering why their store was suddenly so crowded.
But where was Matthew?
Of those assembled, Pinky and Pepe were the only ones who didn’t know their eldest son was supposed to come home at 8:40 Saturday night. For seven months, Matthew Rodgers, a 20-year-old lance corporal in the Marines, served in Sangin, Afghanistan, helping troops avoid roadside bombs in an area that has been particularly dangerous. It was the longest he had ever been away from his Gaithersburg home, where his 17-year-old sister, Tori, helps run Pinky & Pepe’s Grape Escape. He told Tori he wanted to surprise them.
It was supposed to be a small, family prank. But Tori kicked it up a notch.
She and best friend Rachel Lipman organized a parade. It was a chance for Tori to show just a smidgen of her devotion.
“I don’t know, it doesn’t look like we could get him here before midnight,” said Ben Garey, Tori’s uncle. “Maybe . . . ”
“I’m optimistic,” Rachel said.
“We’re gonna make it happen,” Tori insisted.
Before Matthew was a lookout for the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, he looked out for Tori and their brother, Andrew, a freshman at Frostburg State University. Matthew taught Tori how to throw a perfect spiral and would laugh with her while watching animated films.
Two years ago, he left to join the Marine Corps.
“I was so surprised he wanted to go,” Tori said. “It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also so scary.”
The family has always been close. When Matthew called from Sangin, his mother, Pinky, and his father, Pepe, always hogged the phone. In conspiring with Matthew, Tori felt a little closer to him. She shared the details with Rachel, who works with her at the store.
“And we thought, what if we do something outrageous that no one would ever expect us to do?” Tori said.
Ideas started to flow. What if they got all their friends and family together to surprise not just their parents but Matthew, too?
What if they got the marching band at Quince Orchard High School to play in the parking lot?
What if they got a firetruck?
No, no. What if they organized a whole parade?
The marching band was onboard. Tori encouraged the fire department to support a family of civil servants: Her father was a Prince George’s County police officer.
She and Rachel took a dozen doughnuts to the police department in hopes of sweet-talking them into the plan. Rachel got Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney A. Katz to issue a proclamation.
For municipalities, such events can take months to plan. It took the two teenagers fewer than 10 days.
“It turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be,” Rachel said.