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Wounded soldier from Derry gets hero's welcome

New Hampshire Sunday News

December 17. 2011 10:32PM

Army Spc. Dave Taylor of Derry is hugged by family friend Kathy Mendonca of Deerfield at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Saturday. Taylor lost his lower left leg after being injured in Afghanistan in June. (JOSH GIBNEY / UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - 'Even firefighters have heroes.'

On Saturday, one of those heroes, Spc. David Taylor, was welcomed home by his family, friends and fellow veterans at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

But the loudest cheers were coming from the guys in Derry Fire Department uniforms.

Taylor, 25, was serving with the Army's 10th Mountain Division when his left leg was severely injured by an improvised explosive device in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on June 11.

He's spent the past six months recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where doctors recently amputated part of his leg and fitted him for a prosthesis.

Now he's home for Christmas, and Derry turned out in force to welcome a local hero.

Taylor's mother, Kim Porter, and his sister, Heidi, met him at the gate in private before they all joined the bigger welcome-home gathering.

Porter, who has been at her son's bedside during his convalescence, said she's been amazed at the good spirits and camaraderie of all the wounded warriors at the military hospital. 'They just keep going. They all want to get well and get back to their troops, which most of them can't.

Mike Willinsky, president of Professional Firefighters of Derry, used to run the department's Explorers program. That's where he met young Dave Taylor.

Willinsky said Taylor has always been the fire department's connection to the war; they've kept tabs on him during his three deployments.

'Even firefighters have heroes,' he said. 'Those guys over there are the heroes. They're doing something we can't do.'

Derry Fire Chief George Klauber recalled Taylor 'had a tough decision when he graduated high school: It was service or fire service. He decided he wanted to go into the military.'

Among the family friends waiting to greet Taylor was Kathy Mendonca of Deerfield. She said Saturday's welcome event was 'the best thing in the world.'

'He made it home, and he's home safe,' she said, tears in her eyes.

Members of the Pinkerton Academy Junior ROTC wore service dress uniforms for the occasion. Heidi Taylor is a member of the corps, and Jason Palazzo said fellow members were there to support her.

Hazel Guilmet of Londonderry said she has known Taylor since he was knee high. 'He is just a sweet guy. Very caring,' she said. 'Always puts everybody else first.'

At 11:46 a.m., a buzz ran through the crowd, and all eyes looked toward the gate on the other side of security. 'There they come!' said Susan Peterson from Blue Star Mothers of New Hampshire, who came to show her support. 'He's walking, too! Woo-hoo!'

And as the young soldier walked in, just a slight stiffness in one leg, a huge cheer went up. Firefighters engulfed him in bear hugs. His mother's friends pulled him close for tearful embraces. His sister stayed close to his side, wiping away happy tears.

Then Taylor moved through a double line of Patriot Guard members holding large U.S. flags, shaking their hands and receiving their thanks.

'We're here to welcome home our hero who was combat wounded,' said Joe Crinieri of Derry.

Ann Marie Beckley and her husband, Bruce, were there 'just to say thank you and welcome home,' she said. Their son served in the Marine Corps. 'He was one of the fortunate ones who came home safe from Iraq,' she said.

Rep. Al Baldasaro, chairman of the House committee that deals with veterans affairs and a Marine Corps veteran of Desert Storm, shook Taylor's hand.

There were other families waiting for other soldiers, too. Five young men on Taylor's plane from Washington, D.C., were coming home on leave from basic training for Christmas.

Alice Moulton of Greenland, waiting for her 18-year-old son, Joshua, to arrive, was touched by the outpouring of support for a wounded warrior. 'It's awesome,' she said.

As the Derry firefighters realized there were other soldiers on the plane, a fresh round of applause began. 'Welcome home, guys!' they called.

When all the hands were shaken and hugs delivered, the firefighters escorted Taylor to his ride home: Derry's Engine 1. He climbed up into the passenger seat, a broad grin lighting his face, and his sister happily climbed in back as their mother watched.

'He deserves this,' Porter said. 'They all do.'

The next challenge for the young soldier will be to pursue his other lifelong dream, joining the fire service. Fire Chief Klauber said there's a place for him on the Derry department.

'I think somebody with his courage and fortitude, he's going to work hard at it,' he said. 'He's going to be able to set an example of what you can do.'

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