A warm welcome greets Marine after a long road back
WEST VINCENT, Pa. — The president had pinned a Purple Heart to his shirt while he was recuperating from injuries suffered in Afghanistan, but it was unexpectedly moving for Marine Cpl. Grant Cantrell III to hear the cheers of folks when he arrived in his hometown.
Cantrell, a 2008 graduate of Owen J. Roberts High School, was welcomed home May 8 after months of surgeries and treatment for injuries he suffered after stepping on an improvised explosive device in September 2011 while serving in Afghanistan.
Using only a cane, Cantrell walked to a podium and delivered his thanks to the crowd of dozens who came to welcome him back.
“I wasn’t expecting all these people here, but it’s nice to see everybody out here to welcome me home,” he said. “I’m sorry it took so long, but I’m here now.”
Months or even weeks ago, Cantrell’s family wasn’t sure they would see him walk again.
On Sept. 28, 2011, while on foot patrol serving his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, Cantrell was injured by an IED. He was airlifted out of Afghanistan and transported to Walter Reed National Memorial Medical Center, where he was treated for several months for a traumatic brain injury and serious injuries to his legs and feet.
Cantrell was presented the Purple Heart by President Barack Obama, who came to his bedside at Walter Reed and pinned it to his shirt.
The injuries he suffered to his legs and feet were so traumatic, he endured numerous surgeries and had to relearn how to walk.
“It was weird, the first time I walked,” Cantrell said. “It felt like, have you ever seen when a horse is born, all weak and wobbly? That’s how it felt.”
Cantrell admitted he was nervous about stepping out in front of so many people, including his brothers in arms. But the nerves dissipated once he realized he was home.
One after another, friends, family members, acquaintances and total strangers made their way to Cantrell to offer their gratitude for his service and their prayers for his continued recovery.
Cantrell’s mother, Sandra Cantrell-Edwards, tearfully embraced her son when she finally made her way through the crowd to him. She had been anxiously waiting for his safe return home.
“It felt great; just to see him walking felt great,” she said. “I can’t wait to get him to the house and let him sleep in his bed for the first time in a year.”
Cantrell-Edwards said the efforts of motorcycle clubs, local officials, veterans support groups like A Hero’s Welcome, friends and family to be there for her son’s homecoming meant a great deal. The surprise presence of Cantrell’s comrades, fellow members of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment from Camp Lejeune, N.C., also made the day special.
“I think it’s great that people came out, took time out of their day to welcome him home,” she said.
She acknowledged the severity of her son’s injuries and the lasting effect they will likely have on him for the rest of his life. But when asked whether he would change his decision to serve in the Marines if he could, Cantrell didn’t hesitate for a second.
“No. I’m glad I did what I did,” he said. “Not everyone can really say they’ve done the things I’ve done and it’s nice to know I support my country.”