On Saturday, Army Sgt. Michael Downing came home to Middleboro for the first time since his Humvee was attacked in Afghanistan in September. The explosion of a homemade device claimed both his legs. U.S. Rep. Barney Frank looked at him and couldn’t utter a word. Finally, he said, “I voted to send that man over there. How do you make up for what this man gave us?”
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank looked at the soldier sitting before him in a wheelchair and couldn’t utter a word. Frank tried — his hands clenched, his lips moved, but nothing came out.
The soldier’s words to Frank, “We need three times the number (of soldiers).”
Frank shook his head and stepped up to the podium at the Middleboro VFW hall.
“I voted to send that man over there,” Frank said. “How do you make up for what this man gave us?”
A vote to go to war, he said, is a “terrible decision … not done lightly.”
On Saturday, Army Sgt. Michael Downing came home to Middleboro for the first time since his Humvee was attacked in Afghanistan in September. The explosion of a homemade device claimed both his legs.
“I am doing well, getting used to my new legs,” Downing said.
He said the biggest challenge is getting up on them.
Downing faces another six to nine months at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., before he can return home to Middleboro to stay.
Frank said Downing reaffirmed the need to send more troops to Afghanistan, home base for “murders” and where U.S. troops are outnumbered.
Frank said Downing paid the price “beyond any reasonable expectation to protect America.”
“Then he comes back and cheers us up; he’s an extraordinary American,” Frank said.
Frank presented Downing with a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol, saying he had never presented a flag with more meaning to anyone more entitled to fly it.
Among the many citations and awards given to him Saturday, Downing received a lifetime membership to the Greater Taunton Disabled American Veterans by Commander Morton E. Morin, who promised, “We’ll take care of you.”
Throughout the reception both Downing and his wife, Dawnalee, sat quietly, flanked by their children — three stepdaughters and his 8-year-old son, Jimmy, who reached out and patted his father’s shoulder.
At Downing’s side was Sgt. Martin Spellancy, who served with him in Kosovo.
“Sometimes we pay a heavy price,” Spellancy said.
“I know you represent what’s good about this country, you’re the best we have to offer. You represent hope,” said state Rep. Thomas J. Calter of Kingston.
Calter said Downing is not comfortable being called a hero.
“Get used to it, you are,” Calter told him.
Others have stepped forward to pave the way for Downing’s eventual return home.
Brockton High School DECA students Rebecca Merolli, Kristen Rankin and Sarah Grande presented him with a check for $12,960 from their fundraising efforts.
The girls had learned that Downing had been a graduate of Brockton High School.
John S. Gonsalves, president and founder of Homes for Our Troops, promised to make the Downing home completely handicapped accessible.
Last month, the group built its 36th home for wounded soldiers and he credits the town of Middleboro with playing a crucial role in the effort.
“We’re going to build you a home,” Gonsalves said. “It’s my way of saying thanks to people like you.”
In preparation for Downing’s Christmas visit, Tim Hashem of TNT Excavating and Kenny Johnson, Mike Hall, Larry Weber and John Bergen of Brenkor Construction built a ramp on the Downings’ current home, and Mark Lundquist of Fortress Builders and his workers donated their time to make the downstairs handicapped accessible.
Dawnalee Downing, who is acting as her husband’s nurse while he is home, said it was nice to have him home for the holidays.
“I can get him up and around … the family is the pit crew,” she said.