WINDER, Ga. -- Hundreds of Barrow County residents gathered Thursday to welcome home U.S. Army Specialist Sam Walley.
His trip home involved an escort seen as it crossed through much of east Georgia.
This marked the first time the 20-year-old had visited home following a severe injury he suffered in June during his deployment to the Middle East.
“I’m just happy he’s alive and happy he’s home,” said Sam’s aunt, Brenda Walley.
Accompanying the soldier into Winder were police, local government officials and members of the American Legion.
Onlookers lined miles of Highway 11 to greet Walley and his motorcade.
Downtown shop windows were filled with celebratory signs and patriotic decorations, and local firefighters hung a large banner between two ladder trucks to welcome the Winder-Barrow High School graduate.
Walley was 18 when he enlisted in the Army immediately following his 2010 high school graduation.
An IED explosion in Afghanistan left Walley without his left arm and right leg. The wounded soldier spent the past year in Bethesda, Md., for injury rehabilitation. He recently underwent surgery to repair some damage to his left leg.
The motorcade came to a stop at Winder First Baptist Church, where Walley was immediately greeted by cheers and applause from spectators wearing red, white and blue and waving American flags.
“This means the world,” Walley said of his homecoming. “It’s awesome to come home and see this.
“It’s a lot more than I expected,” he said as person after person shook his hand, thanking him for his service.
Walley said he plans to spend his three-week visit home with friends and family.