FORT MILL, S.C. -- Two days before Christmas, some local National Guard members received a heartwarming homecoming that almost didn’t happen.
Weeks ago it seemed impossible -- getting 200 soldiers from Chester, York and Lancaster counties back home from training in Wisconsin before they head to war in Afghanistan.
The community chipped in and made it happen.
On Wednesday morning, in a Fort Mill Lowe's parking lot there were little girls with flags waiting for their fathers to come home and fathers waiting for their sons.
"Oh wow, it's real emotional," said Bill Muetze, a single dad and Vietnam Veteran with two sons in the National Guard unit. "They're my heroes. They're my sons. It's real hard."
He was among the first at their holiday homecoming.
"This is a glorious event," Muetze said. "We're going to enjoy it and our time together."
His sons almost didn't make it home. The unit needed $35,000 for the busses and not all the soldiers could afford their part.
"I can get you guys home, no problem," Muetze said he told his sons. "They said, 'We don't come home without everyone.' I said, 'You're coming home. We'll get you home.'"
When word got out to the community, people donated $10,000. The manager at the Lowe's store called his corporate office and convinced them to help. Even Lancaster Tours, a local bus company, gave the soldiers a huge discount.
Six-year-old Morgan Maciariello couldn't wait to see her dad on Wednesday.
"It makes me feel happy inside because he's coming home and I really do miss him," she said.
Muetze spotted his sons immediately and ran to hug them.
"They're my boys. I'm proud of them," he said.
But he knows they're not home for long.
"It's scary. This homecoming is a high in my life but to think that they're going to go off to war, of course, is the other side, but they'll come home," Muetze said.