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home : news : north central illinois   April 29, 2016

1/13/2013 7:28:00 PM
NT Facebook fans have memorable Christmas:

Sgt. Dan Malo, a 2003 graduate of Ottawa High School, holds his four-year-old son Mason upon his arrival back in the U.S. just after Christmas. Malo is based in Hawaii and recently completed his second tour in Afghanistan, which began Jan. 1, 2012. Submitted photo
+ click to enlarge
Sgt. Dan Malo, a 2003 graduate of Ottawa High School, holds his four-year-old son Mason upon his arrival back in the U.S. just after Christmas. Malo is based in Hawaii and recently completed his second tour in Afghanistan, which began Jan. 1, 2012.
Submitted photo
Amy Flanery
Lifestyle Editor

When the NewsTribune asked its Facebook fans on Dec. 28 what their best Christmas gift was, the most common answer was time spent with family. For a few area residents, that time was even more precious.

For one couple, it was their first Christmas together. Another was blessed with the birth of their second daughter on Dec. 26. For Mike Rhode and LuAnn Heider of La Salle, Christmas Eve 2012 will be remembered as the date they got engaged.

Rhode said his mother sat through a church service about marriage without spilling the beans about what was going to happen when they got home. Rhode had a ring wrapped under the Christmas tree for LuAnn.

“I wrote her a letter that summed up our relationship over the past 4½ years,” he said. “I got down on one knee … and asked her to marry me.”

The couple is planning to marry sometime in fall 2013.

“It’s been a good 4½ years. We’ll see what the rest of life brings,” Rhode said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

Yvonne Malo of Streator’s best Christmas gift didn’t come through her front door. It arrived a day late and in another state, but she couldn’t have asked for anything better than this:

“My son coming home from Deployment,” she wrote. “4 hours after Christmas Day.”

Malo’s son, Sgt. Dan Malo, a 2003 graduate of Ottawa High School, was reunited with his wife and two children in Hawaii at 2 a.m. Dec. 26 after a year-long tour — his second — in Afghanistan.

“I knew several days when he was coming in, but not exactly the time,” his mother said. “Of course I didn’t sleep all night. I kept waiting.”

She saw an updated arrival time on his unit’s website and immediately went to Dan’s personal page, where she found confirmation that he was back on U.S. soil.
“It’s the greatest feeling to have, because every day you just don’t know what’s going on,” she said, adding that some members of his unit did not make it home.
“It’s scary,” she said. “I can sleep better now.”

His father, Steve Malo of La Salle, had similar sentiments.
“It’s such a relief,” he said. “You don’t want to think bad things, but, you know, when you’re in a war zone, stuff can happen.”

Sgt. Malo called the holiday homecoming “very emotional.”

“The bus ride from Hickam Air Force Base to Wheeler Army Air Field was probably one of the longest rides of my life,” he wrote in a Facebook message.

He was met at the end of that ride by his wife, Amy (Philhower) Malo, originally from Princeton, his step-daughter Skylar, 12, and his son Mason, 4.
The children did not know their father was coming home, only that they had to get in the car to go get their “big” present.

“Even though I just missed Christmas by just a couple hours, it was still nice to come home and watch my kids open their presents,” Malo said. “We had to tell my son that Christmas Day was Christmas Eve so he would not try to open his presents.”

Skylar and Mason’s eyes lit up when they saw their dad.

“They both ran up to me and gave a big hug and kiss. I was all smiles and teary eyed,” he recounted. “It felt really great to be home to hold my wife and kids.”
Sgt. Malo’s unit was escorted from the airport by a motorcycle brigade, which his mother was able to see via a video posted by the official military Facebook page, “D Company 3-25 AVN.” Thanks to the page, she was also able to see her son’s official re-entry into the country in a video called “MB2 Hangar Entry.”

“It was very emotional the whole time,” she said. “It was a proud mom moment.”
Sgt. Malo joined the Army out of the National Guard.

“It was just a career opportunity for him,” his father said. “He went active so he could support his family.”

Steve Malo said his son has talked about staying in the Army for a full 20 years or more, and is about halfway there already.

So far in his military career, Sgt. Malo has been awarded an Army Commendation Medal, four Army Achievement Medals, an Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Medal, an Afghanistan Campaign Medal with three Campaign Stars, Global War on Terrorism Service medal, a Noncommission Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, two Overseas Ribbons, ISAF Nato Medal and a Meritorious Unit Citation.
He plans to spend six weeks in Virginia this summer, his parents said, to become a staff sergeant.
“I run across people every day who say, ‘Tell your son thank-you for his service,’” Steve Malo said. “I try to echo those sentiments every time I talk to him, because he is laying his life on the line and we’re just totally proud of him.”

Amy Flanery can be reached at (815) 220-6975 or Follow the NewsTribune on Facebook at

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