As an Army chief warrant officer stationed in the Persian Gulf, William McKinley "Sputnik" Studivant missed being home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and his birthday.
Yesterday, Studivant, 33, enjoyed all those special days rolled into one at a welcome-home party thrown for him by 50 of his relatives and friends in the Sandtown section of West Baltimore. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Councilwoman Agnes Welch, D-4th, also were on hand.
A vehicle maintenance technician with the 82nd Airborne Division, Studivant was among the first U.S. military personnel stationed in the Persian Gulf. The division was sent to Saudi Arabia in early August last year, days after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Studivant, who enlisted in the Army in 1976 and has only five years until his retirement, returned to his base, Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., on April 2.
Catherine Studivant, the mother of William and his three brothers and three sisters, hatched the idea for the welcome-home party. The 1000 block of N. Mount St. in Sandtown, where family members have lived in the same rowhouse since 1929, was to have been cordoned off for an outdoor celebration.
But last Friday, amid all the preparations, Catherine Studivant, 52, suffered a stroke. While the party went on, she was recuperating at Baltimore County General Hospital.
Her absence proved a sour note, along with the steady rain that forced part of the celebration into the hot, cramped courtroom in the Western District police station.
The station stands directly across the street from the house where four generations of the same family -- including Studivants, Browns, Braxtons, Hindses and Johnsons -- have raised 19 children.
After ceremonies and some nibbling of fried chicken and baked goods at the station, everyone crossed the street to the house for some serious eating. There, the guest of honor dug into the seafood, chicken and rice pudding -- his favorite foods -- that the family women had cooked.
Still, Catherine Studivant wasn't far from everyone's thoughts.
"My mother is really the driving force of the family," said William's sister, Brenda Campbell, 25. "She gets ideas off the top of her head, like this party, and she just says, 'Let's do it.' And we all get right in line behind her and do it."
Meanwhile, the business of honoring William Studivant went on as scheduled, with lots of emotion.
Family friend Cleveland Brister, who grew up on North Mount Street, emceed the proceedings at the police station. William Studivant sat in the front row of seats with his wife, Audrey, and their daughter, Taneya, 12, and son, Wesley, 11. The family lives in Fayetteville.
Studivant's father, William Jr., also was in the front row.
Brister, a city Urban Services Agency employee who works in youth programs, urged the children in the audience to develop the kind of technical skills that have made William Studivant valuable to the Army.
(A knowledge of hi-tech machinery might be expected of someone nicknamed "Sputnik," for the famous Soviet satellite that was launched shortly before Studivant's birth.)
Schmoke presented Studivant, an Edmondson High School graduate, with a book and a "City That Reads" bookmark, and was one of several speakers who referred to the soldier as a "role model."
"You are a symbol of the best in our community," the mayor said to Studivant, who wore shiny black boots and an olive dress uniform.
Welch, with an arm around Studivant's shoulders, read a City Council resolution congratulating the soldier for his "heroism and courage."
Studivant also was saluted by Ray Williams, the president of the Maryland chapter of the 555th Airborne Unit, the "Triple Nickels," which was established during World War II as the Army's first unit of black paratroopers. Several members of the local Triple Nickels attended the ceremonies, sporting black baseball caps bearing the name of the unit that became defunct when the Army was integrated in the late 1940s.
The guest of honor spoke last, opening by saying he wasn't a good speaker. He sold himself short. He talked briefly but humorously at times about his Army career, including his reluctance to make required airplane jumps when he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne.
"I didn't want to go to the 82nd because they make you jump out of perfectly good aircraft that are capable of landing anyway. And you will find religion when you jump. Paratroopers pray that they'll make a proper landing when they jump," Studivant said to much laughter.
He closed by speaking of his pride in belonging to the 82nd Airborne. A division member, he said, "always keeps his boots a little shinier than other soldiers', and his uniform looks a little sharper so people will say when you walk by, 'Wow, that's a good-lookin' soldier.' "