CLEVELAND, Minn. -- On Friday afternoon, the departures and arrivals gate at Mankato Regional Airport really only had one arrival folks were lining up for.
One arrival six months in the making.
About 100 people stood at attention to welcome home a soldier, a wounded warrior, Private First Class Jack Zimmerman of Cleveland, Minnesota.
Zimmerman left home two and a half years ago to serve his country in the United States Army.
Back in March, while on patrol in Afghanistan, Zimmerman stepped on an IED, the blast took his legs and robbed him of the use of his right arm.
So those he served to protect on Friday made sure he knew his sacrifice, his call to duty, was not something done in vain.
With the one good hand he has left Zimmerman thanked everyone from his wheelchair with a handshake, every friend, every veteran one at a time.
"I told you, they took his legs but they didn't take him, same old Jack," Zimmerman's mother Lori said with a smile.
But in places like this one welcome home wasn't thanks enough.
Zimmerman's hometown of Cleveland let school out for this civics lesson.
Students lined up on the town's streets to learn first-hand the value of freedom and to welcome him home.
Because it was homecoming in Cleveland after all.
In a country of more than 311 million people, towns like Cleveland, too often get overlooked.
And that's a shame because its places like this that define home.
Of the free.
Of the brave.
"You know in the Army everybody says I'm from so and so and whatever but I was pretty darn proud to say I was from Cleveland Minnesota," Zimmerman said.
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)