During a Veterans Court graduation ceremony in 2012, Judge Patrick Dugan listens as a veteran expresses his gratitude. Credit: Philadelphia Public Record
The titles varied: An infantryman. A gunner. A storekeeper.
Some served with the Army, others Navy, a few were Marines.
But all 25 were gathered in a courtroom on the third floor of the Criminal Justice Center behind City Hall on Wednesday for the same two reasons: they lost themselves in a dizzy spell of addiction and broke the law. And with the help of Veterans Court, a city-run rehab program, they found their way back.
Each soldier received a diploma, a coin, an American flag and no more than 30 seconds on the microphone to address their peers.
Veterans Court Judge Patrick Dugan called each name individually. He read aloud each graduate's outfit, rank, job title, and finally, years and locations served.
Some said they were "grateful." Others were "relieved." Some added: "God bless."
But all of them said, "thank you."
"Mark Johns," Dugan announced. "Served in the Army, '74 through '76, as a field artillery man."
"Welcome home," he added.
Johns pumped Dugan's hand before grabbing the microphone.
"I have come to the realization," he said, "that it's time to change."