An El Dorado County soldier who lost both legs in Afghanistan in May walked off an airport escalator Wednesday night into a circle of flag-waving supporters.
Army Spc. Charles "Douglas" Harris, 22, of Somerset has spent the past five months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
He arrived at Sacramento International Airport shortly after 7 p.m., accompanied by his mother, Lisa Marie. On hand to greet him were his father, Charles, and sister, Jessica, a Marine lance corporal who is home on leave.
For the crowd of family, friends and more than 50 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, his arrival was announced by patriotic tunes played by bagpiper Bill Tubbs of the State Military Reserve.
Harris was welcomed by members of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Honor Guard before receiving handshakes, hugs, thanks and good wishes from those who lined up to greet him.
Not all the well-wishers were part of the organized turnout. Dolores Morris of Escalon and her friend Lauralee Erbe joined in the reception line, explaining that they had arrived on the same flight and wanted to express their appreciation to the young soldier.
As he headed for the terminal exit, Harris said he was overwhelmed by the reception.
Harris graduated from Union Mine High School in 2008 and joined the Army in 2010. He was on his first deployment, serving in the infantry.
"On May 30, he was on dismounted patrol, going down the road, and he stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device)," his father said.
He lost his right leg below the knee, and his left leg was amputated a couple of days later.
His son's first few days after arriving at Walter Reed were touch and go, said his father, but since then he has made a remarkable recovery.
"His sense of humor is incredible," Charles Harris said.
His son received a prosthetic right leg in July and was fitted with a prosthetic left leg a month later. Since then, he has mastered walking and climbing stairs. He's become so adept at it that his family had concrete steps instead of a ramp installed for him at their Somerset home.
Charles Harris said the local VFW donated funds for the project, which was carried out by family friends Don and Brenda Morgan of Somerset.
Charles Harris said that Douglas, an avid outdoorsman, had been deer hunting twice on the East Coast in September, and his grandparents in West Virginia have promised him another hunting trip before he returns to Walter Reed for further medical treatment in November.
Charles Harris said he has been impressed with the ability of his son and fellow soldiers to cope with their injuries, albeit often with a bit of dark humor.
"At Walter Reed they have T-shirts that say, 'I had a blast in Afghanistan,' " he said.
Douglas has been outfitted with what's referred to as a "deployable" knee. He has the option to remain in the Army if he chooses and possibly be deployed again.
"He's keeping his options open," Charles Harris said, pending a final medical review.
Long term, he said, Douglas has expressed interest in going to taxidermy school and becoming a hunting guide.
The Harris family left the airport in a Hummer limousine escorted by the California Highway Patrol and El Dorado County Sheriff's Office.
A public reception for Harris will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday at the Veterans Memorial Building, 130 Placerville Drive, Placerville.