CEDAR FALLS — The Cedar Valley did it up right.
Thousands gathered at the Waterloo Regional Airport and along a route through downtown Cedar Falls, past Cedar Falls High School and ending at Holmes Junior High School to welcome Taylor Morris home.
This is the first time Morris, 23, a Navy bomb detection expert and purple heart recipient, has been home since his deployment and the May bomb blast that cost him portions of all four limbs.
Morris, whose plane landed just before 2 p.m., was greeted on the tarmac by a small group of family members and close friends as hundreds more waited for a glimpse of the hometown hero. Most of those assembled near the airport were members of the Patriot Guard Riders waiting to follow Morris, accompanied by his longtime girlfriend, Danielle Kelly, along the route.
Onlookers could see a wheelchair being unloaded from the plane, but Morris disembarked on his own and walked the short distance to the airport building using prosthetic legs.
Some in attendance knew Morris personally, others were just there to support him.
Perry Miller, a 1976 graduate of Cedar Falls High School, knows both of Taylor’s parents, Dan and Juli Morris. Miller’s son, Alex, played baseball and wrestled with Morris through junior high and high school.
“I’m just here to support the families and to show Taylor the community support he deserves,” Miller said. “It’s not often we get to celebrate something like this.”
Miller said he was in shock and disbelief when he heard of Morris’ injuries.
“But knowing Taylor, I’m not surprised he has handled the adversity like he has,” Miller said.
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.
“I don’t know Taylor,” she said. “But he is an inspiration to everyone.”
Hoeweler also feels a connection to Morris because her son is a quadriplegic.
“They both have their own challenges to face,” she said.
She brought a book with her, asking a friend of Morris’ to pass it on to him.
The honor guard from Cedar Falls AMVETS Post 49 greeted Morris and his party as they walked out of the airport and got into a white convertible driven by Dan Morris as the crowd cheered.
As members of the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office and Waterloo Police Department led the way, more than 150 bikers — mostly Patriot Guard Riders — fell in behind Morris’ car.
The motorcade made its way to downtown Cedar Falls, passing thousands of flag-waving, sign-holding well-wishers along the way. Construction businesses along the route hung flags from their equipment and United Concrete on Airline Highway had cement trucks bearing the images of the five Sullivan Brothers parked in its driveways.
Following a pass through downtown, the group drove past Lincoln Elementary School where 540 students from kindergarten through sixth grade anxiously awaited Morris’ arrival. Most wore red, white or blue and many held handmade signs.
At Cedar Falls High School, students, staff and other residents — including the school’s band — lined Division Street and clapped, waved and shouted as Morris passed by.
The event concluded at Holmes Junior High School where students cheered and displayed banners on both sides of the curved drive, where Morris’ car briefly parked.
He was presented with a yellow Patriot Guard Riders flag bearing signatures and welcome home messages. Motorcyclists revved their engines as part of a thunder salute.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Morris said of the community’s reception. “It was pretty awesome.”
This weekend he is looking forward to “my buddy’s wedding and hanging out with everybody, meeting old friends.”
Staff writers Tina Hinz and Dennis Magee contributed to this article.[nggallery id=942]