Kerry Cain's head bears several large scars from war-related injuries that occurred Sept. 10 in Kabul, Afghanistan, when the U.S. embassy there was bombed. But Cain bears fewer scars on his heart and soul after the amazing homecoming he received Sunday from supporters who plotted themselves at various spots from the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport all the way to his hometown in Pacific, MO, just to wave and welcome him back.
Through lots of tears, handshakes and hugs, the 19-year-old Cain said the reception was "the best anyone could ever ask for, especially with so many people saying 'thank you for your service.'"
Regarding his perspective on the military attack from which he's healing, he told Patch "payback comes back."
Cain's relatives, with the assistance of military and veterans' groups, organized an interesting homecoming for him all in three, short days.
Firefighters, such as teams at House No. 2, displayed huge American flags along Cain's route down Interstates 270 and 44. Missouri State Highway Patrolmen escorted him. Nearly 100 Patriot Guards' members and Freedom Riders motorcyclists rode the entire route with him.
A welcome-home banner hung on the I-44 overpass in with approximately 25 people waving. Patch blogger and Eureka resident George Weber, a former U.S. Marine, was among them.
When Cain's motorcade got off of I-44 at the /Allenton intersection in Eureka, another group of people were waiting to greet him, such as Lisa and Gene Corbett, of . Cain got out of the limosine, which was donated by JED Transportation, at the station at the intersection and got atop a large military truck. He was joined by truck drivers from Pacific businesses.
Once Cain hit downtown Pacific, an estimated crowd of 500 were on-hand to hail him, complete with American flags, dogs and long-lasting smiles. Private First Class (PFC) Cain is a Pacific High School graduate, and no doubt, was truly home.
"Today was simply great. It's overwhelming to see all this support," said Cain's mother, Sheila Culp. "This is how they (military representatives) should be welcomed home. Some people don't realize all the sacrifices they make."
Cain received his Purple Heart award in Texas about a week ago. But it's been a long way to getting home.
After the bombing accident happened, Cain was flown to Germany. After he was stabilized, he was flown to San Antonio, TX. He received several surgeries to address his wounds. At one point, he was in a coma and nearly died. He has been recovering at a military base in Louisiana in recent days, and said he will have 22 days at home before returning to Louisiana.
Cain's 10-year-old cousin from Dittmer, MO, Jeremy Mathes, said the whole ordeal made him worry, but that he was "feeling very, very, very good that Kerry was still alive" and that he was seeing him in-person.
Cain said he was in his troop's dining facility when the suicide driver of a dumptruck drove into their base and set off a bomb 40 feet away from him. The explosion caused an entire wall of concrete to collapse. "Multiple people said they saw me grab the head of the fellow soldier near me and shove him down," said Cain. "When the concrete wall hit me, I was knocked unconscious. The guy I grabbed was still moving after the accident, but I wasn't. So they immediately helped him, thinking I was dead."
After 10 or 15 minutes after the bomb, Cain said he got up on his accord and started moving around, but had a shattered left skull. He currently has 95 percent hearing loss in his left ear, and is working to regain full control of his left leg and foot.
Cain's aunt, Brenda Culp, who was integral to planning the homecoming, said he will be able to stay in the Army and make a career of it, although he may never be in active duty again. She said he faces a yearlong recovery, particularly with working on his overall equilibrium.
"It hits home for me, with my son leaving for the 82nd Airborne Nov. 1," said Jack Bone, pastor of First Christian Church in Pacific. Bone, who provided an overall prayer for the homecoming crowd gathered at the American Legion Hall in Pacific, said he found the reception very uplifting.
"I asked my son if he still believed in Jesus Christ, and when he said 'yes,' I said 'then you're in good hands,'" Bone told participants. Bone said he asked the same question of Cain, who answered yes, he did, too.
Bone's prayer included thanks to Cain and other military personnel for standing up for the independence of the United States of America, and for being leaders "who give their best, and at times, their lives."
The Honoree Honors Someone Else
Shortly after arriving at the American Legion Hall, Cain climbed on top of a table -- much to the dismay of his mother. He beckoned his uncle, Lonnie Plank, to come next to him. Plank, a Villa Ridge, MO, resident was in the Army during the Vietnam War in 1966 to 1968.
Cain presented Plank with a customized, commemorative coin for a job well done in that war. He also gave his uncle the beret that was with him when the bomb in Afghanistan went off. "He's always been my special nephew," said Plank. "We used to go fishing together, and no matter what, we had fun."
"Today is just overwhelming, considering the amount of patriotism and support, including the Patriot Guard," said Plank, who admitted he was a little sick to his stomach after all the emotions the event prompted.
"But I felt better with my arms around him and sharing tears."
Ron Roark, representing the St. Louis metropolitan Patriot Guard, said today's event was "awesome." The group performs different military ceremonies, including escorting soldiers' bodies from being killed in action. "We escort bodies to funerals, or wherever families need us to go," said Roark. "The happiness of today's event for Kerry helps offset all of the sad times we witness."
Even one of Cain's former teachers came to help him celebrate Sunday. Jane Jud-Almstedt, a Meramec Valley School District teacher, is also the mother of a daughter in the U.S. Coast Guard and a mother-in-law of a Marine. She said she was glad to help organize some of the activities, along with many other interested volunteers.
Randy Leutauser, of Robertsville, MO, said his wife, Karen, used to babysit Cain. "It's a blessing to have him home. Something like this drops you," he said, noting that he and Karen lost their son in a car accident a couple of years ago.
"My heart goes out to everyone who faces the risk of losing a loved one. You learn to live with the loss, but you never get over it," he said.
Leutauser said he always goes up to any military soldier dressed in uniform to shake their hand, partly to thank them for representing him because he was born with one blind eye and so couldn't get into the military. "I'm really glad to get to shake Kerry's hand again."