by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:WINDER, Ga. —
A local soldier received a hero’s welcome as he returned to his hometown of Winder for the first time in more than a year.
Army SPC Sam Walley lost part of his leg and arm while serving in Afghanistan last June. American flags and supporters lined the streets as he returned home Thursday.
Walley spoke to Channel 2’s Kerry Kavanaugh via FaceTime during his road trip from Walter Reed Medical Center to Winder about the even longer journey to reach this day.
He was four months into his first deployment in Afghanistan when a roadside blast nearly killed him.
"I just remember dirt going up everywhere and getting blasted in the ditch,” he said.
He said his fellow soldiers saved his life.
Days after the blast, the 20-year-old said he was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He lost his right leg below the knee and his left arm below the elbow. Doctors salvaged his left leg.
The last year was filled with surgeries and rehabilitation, but he was motivated by family and the memory of his last day on the battlefield.
"I kind of felt it would be kind of an insult to my friends that saved my life out there," Walley said. “So that was probably the No. 1 reason to get better.”
As Walley continued his ride home, dedicated volunteers prepared for his arrival.
"I've been doing this now since 2006. It's an honor each time I do it,” said volunteer George Jones.
American flags lined Highway 11. Alongside the flags, there were signs of support from the entire community.
"I hope that he feels pride to know that his country hasn't forgotten him, to know his sacrifice of losing him limbs wasn't in vain,” said volunteer Denise Jones.
Walley said this homecoming really hasn't sunken in yet. He’s looking forward to celebrating his 21st birthday at home.
He shared a message for the community who has pushed him through it all:
“I don’t regret any of this. I don’t regret. I wouldn't take any of this back. Everybody knows what they did and are proud of what they did," he said.