Paralyzed Vt. veteran received with parade

By John Curran
Associated Press / June 28, 2009
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HYDE PARK, VT. - For Private First Class Andrew Parker, it was a bittersweet homecoming: He was hailed as a hero, feted with a star-spangled parade, and showered with gifts at a welcome home ceremony.

He watched it all from a wheelchair.

Parker, a 21-year-old US Army cavalry scout, was paralyzed in November when a roadside bomb blew up the vehicle he was driving on patrol in Afghanistan.

Yesterday, after months of rehabilitation in Veterans Administration hospitals and a community fund-raising effort that added wheelchair-accessible accommodations to his parents’ house, the wounded warrior came home.

Riding in his wheelchair in the back of a flatbed truck, a smiling Parker took in the flag-waving well-wishers and the hand-lettered signs - “For your sacrifice and our freedom’’ and “Thank you, Andrew’’ among them - on a 6-mile parade to Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7779.

“To welcome him like this, it means a lot,’’ said organizer Diane Marcoux-Laclair, 54. “It means a lot. ’Cause he’s paid a big price.’’

In the bombing, Parker was thrown from the vehicle and landed on his head, breaking his neck.

He was paralyzed from the chest down. He has movement in his arms, but his hands are severely injured.

His injury triggered an outpouring of support in his small northern Vermont hometown.

Marcoux-Laclair - Parker’s former kindergarten teacher - and others solicited donations and in-kind services so his parents could renovate their modest ranch house, turning a garage into a new living space with a wheelchair ramp, and a special shower, bed, and living area.

All told, the work cost about $100,000.

“It would have been a heck of a lot tougher without all this support,’’ said his father, Greg Barnes.