CEDAR FALLS - When he arrived at Waterloo's airport, Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor Morris shunned the wheelchair that was unloaded off the plane for him and instead walked on his new prosthetic legs to a waiting car as hundreds of people cheered for him.
Morris, a 23-year-old Navy bomb detection expert from Cedar Falls, returned to Iowa on Thursday for a weekend visit and to attend a friend's wedding. It's his first trip home since his deployment to Afghanistan and the May bomb blast that took parts of his arms and legs.
"It really feels awesome to know the entire community has our back and is supporting us 100 (percent) throughout this whole ordeal," Morris said in a statement. "Cedar Valley you rock."
Cedar Falls graduate and Navy bomb disposal expert Taylor Morris, center, arrives with girlfriend Danielle Kelly, right, as they look out to upon hundreds of community members and Patriot Guard Riders to welcome Taylor home at the Waterloo Regional Airport for a welcome home celebration Thursday, in Waterloo. Morris lost portions of both legs, his left arm at the elbow and his right hand while on patrol with U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers in early May 2012.
Cedar Falls graduate and Navy bomb disposal expert Taylor Morris is welcomed home by the community members outside Holmes Junior High School Thursday, in Cedar Falls.
Morris and his girlfriend, Danielle Kelly, plan to lay low during his trip home from Walter Reed Medical Center in suburban Washington, D.C., where he is in the early stages of recovery.
People from around the world have followed Morris' recovery through videos and a website put together by his tech-savvy friends, and his sacrifices and approach to the challenges he faces have inspired others.
Carol Hoeweler, 73, sat on her motorized scooter next to the airport's chain-link fence waiting for Morris to arrive. She was decked out in red, white and blue from her earrings to her socks.
Hoeweler said she doesn't know Morris, but feels a connection to him because her son is a quadriplegic.
"They both have their own challenges to face," she said.
Thousands of people lined the route from the airport to Cedar Falls. An honor guard from an American Veterans post in Cedar Falls greeted Morris when he arrived at the airport. Members of the Black Hawk County sheriff's office and Waterloo police led the way and more than 150 bikers, mostly Patriot Guard Riders, fell in behind Morris' car.
Marine Sgt. Quentin Hamilton rode behind Morris. He received his own welcome home to Cedar Falls in May after he spent months recovering from a January bomb blast in Afghanistan that badly injured his leg and foot and killed his best friend.
"I heard that he was coming home," Hamilton said of Morris. "One wounded soldier to another, I just wanted to say hi and welcome him home."
Hamilton recently began walking again, and he said Morris' recovery will be long.
Patriot Guard Rider Jeff Nichols, whose son Specialist Donald Nichols, was killed in Afghanistan last year, was among those who turned out to honor Morris.
"He would be happy that we're doing what we're doing," he said of his son.
The parade passed Sherry Davis, who brought her young sons because, "I wanted them to see how these men and women have sacrificed life and limb and deserve our respect."
Ben Hagarty, a longtime friend of Morris' who helped organize the homecoming, said people think they have problems and then consider what Morris has been through and think, "If he can do it, I can do it, too."
The parade ended at Holmes Junior High School where students cheered as Morris' car stopped.
"I've never seen anything like it," Morris said. "It was pretty awesome."