Hero returns

Hoboken detective arrives home from military service in Iraq
By: Michael D. Mullins , Reporter staff writer 

Michael DePalma's mission last May when he arrived with 42 men in Baghdad, Iraq was to seek out and capture enemy personnel and their supplies.

Last week, the Army Captain and Bronze Star recipient returned home to Hoboken to bagpipes and a Garden Street block party held in his honor.

DePalma, an 11-year veteran of the Hoboken Police Department, joined the National Guard in 1994. In March 2005, DePalma was assigned to a reserve unit out of Savannah, Ga.

Baghdad and beyond

DePalma led a task force in Baghdad that captured several hundred insurgents, 89 of whom were on some of the most sensitive lists provided by the U.S. Intelligence community. The task force was able to locate and destroy thousands of pounds of bomb-making materials that would have been used against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians.

DePalma's contributions amounted to 1,500 combined operations, which included the use of Blackhawk Helicopters, Bradley Assault Vehicles, and several other battle systems.

Following their mission in Baghdad, DePalma's task force was relocated to southeastern Iraq to escort convoys that supplied U.S. and coalition forces with food, ammunition, and other items of sustenance.

Second Lieutenant Steven L. Terry served under DePalma in Iraq and described him as "a patriot of the highest caliber."

Distinguished tour of duty

During Operation Iraqi Freedom III, DePalma distinguished himself in combat on several occasions, which earned him the respect of subordinates and superiors.

In a letter to the police department, Terry recalled instances that illustrate DePalma's courage and decisiveness under fire.

In Baghdad, while attached to a commander's security detail, DePalma came under fire during a checkpoint inspection. As incoming mortar rounds and small arms fire bore down on the captain and his men, DePalma coordinated a counter attack, repelling the enemy assault. Due to his initiative, not a single American was injured during the attack.

On another occasion, while receiving direct and indirect fire from the enemy, DePalma waded through knee-deep mud to re-supply his men with ammunition during an air assault on an enemy stronghold. On the second day of the operation, the unit's translator was killed by incoming mortar.

Rather than sending his men to retrieve the body, DePalma accompanied one other soldier, putting himself at great risk, to collect the translator's remains.

DePalma received a Bronze Star for his heroism and meritorious service in Iraq.

The homecoming

DePalma requested a quiet homecoming, only to be led straight into an ambush by his mother and two of his closest friends.

Over 50 of his biggest supporters, accompanied by a police color guard, awaited his arrival outside the front gate at Newark Airport. His sister and neighbors tied yellow ribbons around the trees on his block to celebrate his return.

DePalma's convoy home to Hoboken rivaled most heads of state; it included six marked cars, two police vans, two motorcycles, two yellow school buses, and one unmarked car for him and his mother.

At about 2 p.m. on Friday, April 28, the lights and sirens of the vehicles cleared a path down Washington Street as onlookers stared.

The man behind the uniform

"He's a modest, humble person capable of great things. The city of Hoboken should be as proud of him as I am," said Detective Jeffrey Lehbrink who has known DePalma for the past 31 years.

Fellow Detective William Vera, whose son is DePalma's godson, said, "They broke the mold when they made him. He's a great person and a true hero."

Other guests at the block party continuously repeated these sentiments.

DePalma's mother Catherine said through tears, "I'm so glad he's home, but I can't help but think about all those young men over there. It breaks my heart."

DePalma plans to resign his commission in the Army and return to the Hoboken Police Department.

Comments (1)

Kim Edgar
Said this on 8-14-2006 At 02:42 pm
I enjoyed your article very much. I was one of the 50 people who waited at the airport for his return. I have known Michael for approx. 28 years and I have never been more proud to know anybody! This entire town (and country) should really be made aware of the sacrifices these men and woman make for OUR DAILY FREEDOMS. I was very saddened upon our arrival into Hoboken, that the mayor did not even have an additional flag or any kind of banner welcoming Michael home...the whole of Washington street and the City Hall building get all decked out for the arts & music festivals, but NOTHING for a war hero????? Seems like priorities might be mixed up huh? Nothing new for Hoboken!

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