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Help Needed for Wounded Soldier's Homecoming

A welcome home party for West Essex grad Derek McConnell is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 23.

U.S. Army Specialist Derek McConnell will get a hero's welcome in Parsippany Sept. 23.

A homecoming party for the 22-year-old veteran is scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. that Sunday at 31 Green Hill Road.

Organizer Kelly Murphy said anyone who wishes to celebrate McConnell's life and service to the nation is invited to attend.

From all accounts, there is much to celebrate: McConnell, a North Caldwell native, moved to Parsippany with his single mother and four siblings four years ago. He enlisted with the Army in 2009 and shipped out to Afghanistan to serve his country in March 2011.

A few months later, his mother received the call no military parent wants: Army officials told her that her son had been severely wounded while on patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He'd stepped on two improvised explosive devices and suffered severe injuries: the loss of both legs, a skull fracture, a fractured right arm and severe blast wounds.

McConnell, despite his injuries, didn't give up.

Sent to the Walter Reed National Military Center in Bethesda, Md., he worked hard to recuperate, undergoing more than 30 surgeries, submitting to painful physical therapy and suffering through a series of difficult infections. In time, he recovered and grew stronger. Now, he can get around through the use of a wheelchair and is now standing and walking on prosthetic legs.

The soldier's future plans include becoming a writer. And organizers say his heart and spirit are strong, his energy and will to thrive boundless.

For Derek McConnell, whose motto is "Never give up, never give in," self-pity is not part of the equation.

“No one made me sign the contract [to enlist]," he recently told Patch. “I saved a lot of lives. I think it was the best thing and the worst thing to ever happen to me, really.

”If I can tell others of my story and help them, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

Murphy said organizers need some help to make the wounded warrior's homecoming party a success.

"We are looking for donations for the party," she told Patch, "food, party supplies, beverages, ice, etc."

Those wishing to help can contact Murphy via e-mail for information. And if you'd like to see more of McConnell's journey toward recovery, check out the Team Derek Facebook page.

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