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Hundreds greet wounded Marine

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich (WOOD) -- When word went out that Joshua Hoffman was coming home, his family asked the injured Marine corporal if he wanted a public homecoming.


Posted: March 25, 2008 04:24 AM CDT
By Joe LaFurgey and Tony Tagliavia

Yes, he said.

On Tuesday, hundreds jammed a hangar at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport and others lined the route that took Hoffman to his new apartment in Kentwood.

A member of Alpha Company, Hoffman's unit was assigned to Fallujah, Iraq. In January 2007, he took a bullet in the neck and is now paralyzed from the shoulders down. He will now receive around-the-clock care at his home.

For months, Hoffman recovered as best he could in a Richmond, Virginia VA hospital, waiting for the day he could come home to West Michigan.

He didn't know the reception he would receive.

"I think we figured a few people," said his brother Jacob Hoffman. "Family, friends. But nothing this big."

Joshua Hoffman, confined to a bed, did not want any pictures of his deplaning shown. As a fellow Marine told 24 Hour News 8, Hoffman didn't want "a pity party."

His brother said the welcome home will play a crucial role in his recovery. "He'll see all the support he has. He'll be, like, 'Man, I gotta get strong, show that I can do this.' That's just the way my brother was. He's a fighter."

When the ambulance carrying Joshua Hoffman left the hangar for his home, it signaled the beginning of another journey. And not just for Joshua.

"It's definitely going to be a challenge," said Heather Lovell.

She and Hoffman have been a couple for the last three and a half years.

"We get to focus on our relationship, and not have to just focus on the medical. We get to continue our relationship and enjoy that," said Lovell, who was at Hoffman's side in Virginia.

She says they are in the relationship for the long run, despite the challenges they face.

"We're just taking it day by day. Now we're just trying to get settled in and enjoy what time we have together right now and keep going forward."

Lovell said she was told multiple times Hoffman wouldn't make it. At one point, he could raise an arm up. But a few bouts with illness have sapped that ability for the time being.

Doctors have been hesitant to set expectations, but the ones they have Joshua has exceeded.

"I expected it. I definitely expected it. I knew he had it in him and he was going to fight to show that the doctors were wrong. And he's going to do better than what they anticipate," said Lovell.

Joshua can now feel his abdomen, his arms, and sometimes his hands. His recovery is of course not over.

"He's aware that he's going to be working 10 times harder than he was before," said Lovell.

The past year has been about getting in good enough shape to come home. Now rehab is about getting Hoffman ready to live the rest of his life.

Hoffman is set to have his first rehab session at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids within the week.

He and Lovell talk about their plans. She wants to go back to school. So does he. Hoffman was just about finished with training to become an airline pilot - a dream that could live on thanks to planes that quadriplegics can pilot.

"His face lit up when he found out he could fly again," Lovell said.

It could take months, even years, to achieve that dream. But for now, "He's here with us. I got to bring him home and that's just exciting. It's just a good feeling," said Lovell.