MELROSE — Massachusetts National Guard members who were deployed to Washington, D.C., to help with security at President Biden’s inauguration ceremony returned home late Saturday afternoon, ending a historic deployment during which they assisted the peaceful transition of power after an eruption of deadly violence at the US Capitol earlier this month.
Outside the armory in Melrose, a giant American flag suspended from the ladders of two fire trucks greeted members of the 182nd Infantry Regiment as they rolled into the city at 5:18 p.m.
Residents gathered in the bitter cold to wave flags and show off signs that they had made to honor the troops’ homecoming. The show of support was organized by Melrose Mayor Paul Brodeur, who had addressed the soldiers at the armory before they left for the inauguration last weekend.
Among the well-wishers was Wendy Mastronardi, 56, of Melrose, who said she didn’t know any of the returning soldiers, but wanted to show her appreciation for their service. She said she had been concerned about possible violence at the inauguration and felt relieved that the event was peaceful.
“I do believe our country is turning a corner, and that we will be listening to the voices of people of color going forward so that our country can begin to make restitution,” she said.
Julie Pulson of Saugus said she has a friend who previously served with the 182nd Infantry Regiment and is now a disabled veteran.
“I just wanted to come out and support those coming home,” she said.
Other Guard members planned to return to different locations across the state including armories in Middleborough, Ware, Braintree, and Worcester, as well as the Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield and Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne, said Lieutenant Colonel Rick Biedermann, a Massachusetts National Guard spokesman.
“They were very excited to do the mission,” Biedermann said Saturday. “This is a very historical event and there was a lot of pride among the troops.”
While reports emerged Friday of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases among National Guard members deployed to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration, Biedermann said officials have no indication that any Massachusetts soldier had been infected.
All troops will be administered a rapid COVID-19 test when they return to the state, he said. Upon their arrival at the Melrose armory Saturday afternoon, Guard members were tested for the virus, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts National Guard said.
Governor Charlie Baker activated about 500 National Guard members to provide security at Biden’s inauguration following the deadly attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6 by a mob of supporters of former president Donald J. Trump. They departed for Washington, D.C., last Saturday and spent their deployment guarding the US House of Representatives.
Another 500 troops were activated inside Massachusetts to assist state and local law enforcement officers in the event extra help was needed to maintain order. The mission for those soldiers ended Wednesday, Biedermann said.
Across the country, nearly 26,000 Guard troops were deployed to Washington, D.C., where their presence at the inauguration was a reminder of the violence earlier this month that claimed the lives of five people and prompted House lawmakers to impeach Trump a second time.
Federal authorities reviewed Guard members assigned to the inauguration, and pulled a dozen from the assignment, including two for possible links to right-wing extremist movements, US Defense Department officials said Tuesday. None of those soldiers were from Massachusetts, Biedermann said.
In another highly publicized event, the Massachusetts National Guard released a statement Friday refuting a report by the conservative Breitbart News Network that accused US Representative William Keating of Bourne of banishing Guard members guarding the US Senate to a parking garage.
“It makes no sense and quite frankly could not be farther from the truth,” said Major General Gary W. Keefe, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard on Friday.
Keefe said the soldiers, who were not from Massachusetts, were asked by officials at the US Capitol on Thursday to take their break in a parking garage while the US Senate was in session.
Keating tweeted the Guard’s statement and called Breitbart’s report “baseless.”
On Thursday, “I was with a large number of people in a coffee shop in the House, some of whom weren’t wearing masks,” Keating tweeted. “I commented — to no one in particular — that this has the ingredients of a super-spreader event and we should all keep our masks on. A member of the National Guard chose to loudly refuse. That is the totality of what took place.”
US Representative Lori Trahan of Westford is among lawmakers who want to know why any Guard members were instructed to take their breaks in a cold parking garage. Francis Grubar, her spokesman, said Trahan “vehemently” opposed the decision, which was rescinded late Thursday.
“She joins with the bipartisan demands from her colleagues to get answers as to why this decision was made and prevent it from ever happening again,” Grubar said Friday.
Pulson and Mastronardi said during the homecoming festivities in Melrose that they were disturbed by the images of Guard members seated on the parking garage’s hard concrete floor.
“That bothered me so much, I just wanted to come out. That was awful,” Pulson said. “I’m just so thankful for them, for everything they’ve done for our country.”
Several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation tweeted photos of the local soldiers during their deployment.
US Senator Edward J. Markey wrote that he had made a Dunkin’ delivery to some of the units while paying them a visit with Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Keating and US Representative Richard Neal also tweeted photographs of themselves with local Guard members.