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Long IslandSuffolk

Amputee vet gets a 'welcome home' of sorts

Marine Capt. James Byler with his parents, Janet

Marine Capt. James Byler with his parents, Janet and Philip Byler, as they celebrate the completion of his newly modified home in Huntington. (Sept. 15, 2012) Credit: Jim Staubitser

Hundreds of people -- including neighbors, firefighters, Boy Scouts and civic leaders -- lined a shady stretch of Broadview Drive in Huntington Saturday to welcome home a hero.

The stirring tribute was the culmination of a community effort to rehab the childhood home of Marine Capt. James Byler, who lost his legs in a bomb blast two years ago while on patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

A Valley Stream nonprofit, Building Homes for Heroes, spearheaded the nearly $300,000 in renovations that made the home handicapped accessible.

Byler, 27, got his first glimpse of the improvements Saturday. "I'm a product of my community," he told the crowd. "Thank you for welcoming me home."

Byler went through rehabilitation at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and is living in Manhattan, taking graduate classes at New York University.

The nonprofit and numerous contractors -- many of whom donated their time -- worked since April to widen doors, add ramps, enlarge hallways and do whatever else they could to make sure Byler would feel comfortable at his parents' home.

In his dress uniform, Byler stood on his prosthetic legs through much of the ceremony -- marveling at the NYPD bagpipers who played the "Marines' Hymn," grinning at Boy Scouts marching in a block-long parade and standing at attention when a Marine color guard presented him with an American flag.

Other participants included motorcyclists with the Patriot Guard Riders of New York, and members of a local Kiwanis Club and Little League baseball team.

Andy Pujol, Homes for Heroes president and founder, emceed the miniature parade, telling the crowd that their presence made a powerful statement.

"We know who you are, Captain Byler. We thank you for your service to God and country. You are one of our sons -- son to an entire nation," he said.

The Marine's mother, Janet Byler, thanked the crowd for contributing to "the healing of our family."

She'll always remember that so many people turned out to celebrate her son's life, she said.

"The biggest miracle is every face that's here. Thank you, thank you, thank you."


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