Marine 1st Lt. James Byler arrived home Thursday, met at MacArthur Airport by hundreds of friends and relatives, a Marine Corps honor guard and local dignitaries.
Byler, 25, was injured while on patrol with his unit in Afghanistan in October. He lost both legs and a finger on each hand after stepping on a land mine and is being treated at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
"James has made all of us in Suffolk proud. We are proud of his dedication," said who presented a proclamation to Byler in a ceremony at the general aviation terminal. "We are a better county and country because of his service. We need more men like you."
of Huntington and representatives from the Town of Islip and U.S. Rep. Steve Israel's office were also on hand to welcome him. Byler, a graduate of , thanked everyone for their support and said it was good to come home.
As Byler started toward the exit he was visibly surprised to enter a hallway lined by a cheering crowd of well-wishers, including members of the Patriot Guard Riders, Boy Scouts, veterans, neighbors and friends. They held welcome signs and flags and his alma mater's band played.
"We are so glad he is home," said Kimmy Schneider of Huntington, one of the crowd who was there with friends Maggie Lombardo and Allie Fulton. Schneider said they knew Byler through their church, . "He is a good friend of mine and we came to welcome him home and we missed him! We're so proud of him and he is a hero."
The evening had turned dark, blustery and cold, but that didn't deter the crowd from pressing forward to catch a glimpse of Byler as he and his family made their way to a waiting limo.
"That is a true American hero," said Tim Scherer, a local resident who was there with his daughters Katie and Meghin. "We are honored to have him home." Scherer's son, Marine Corps Cpl. Christopher G. Scherer, was killed in action July 21, 2007 in Iraq.
In Huntington, crowds lined the road as the limousine carrying the Marine sped past. Dozens of fire fighters from Northport, Huntington Manor and fire departments, who had hung huge American flags over the road in an arch, formed up as numerous police cars accompanied the limousine. Children waving American flags and signs welcoming him home were everywhere.
Byler's mother, Janet, is a teacher at , where the school's National Honor Society recently sponsored a basketball tournament to support his family.