- Associated Press - Saturday, May 17, 2014

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) - There was no airport reception, no motorcade.

No reporters, speeches or awards.

It was just a sailor and the love of his life coming home - the highlight of that homecoming being hugs from family members and an evening out with friends.

“We like low key,” Taylor Morris said in his usual plainspoken manner.

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reports (https://bit.ly/1gDTkO4 ) Morris and longtime girlfriend Danielle Kelly slipped quietly into town the weekend before last - two years to the day after Morris, a Navy explosive ordnance disposal expert, lost portions of all four limbs in a bomb blast in Afghanistan.

Morris and Kelly are home for good. They drove from Washington, D.C., a journey of 17 hours. Morris, fitted with artificial limbs, did most of the driving.

He was officially discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after two years of rehabilitation, assisted by Kelly.

The results of his hard work show. He moves smoothly on artificial legs about his parents’ Cedar Falls home. He’s made visible improvement from when he was first fitted two years ago, even since he and Kelly were in town for the Aug. 3 benefit concert by actor Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band. The event raised money to build the couple an iPad-operated “smart home” to accommodate Morris’ disabilities.

They’re still looking for a site on which to build that home - but it will definitely be in the Cedar Falls area.

Until they find the right location, Morris and Kelly are staying with Taylor’s parents, Dan and Juli Morris, who are building an addition onto their home, in part to provide additional living space for Taylor and Danielle.

It’s good to be home.

“It’s great,” Morris said. The Walter Reed staff was excellent, he said, but it was time to come home.

“I kind of stopped going to physical therapy every day and started focusing on more everyday practical stuff, like walking - getting out of the clinic, which was just super, super accessible - and getting out into the real world,” he said.

He and Danielle celebrated Taylor’s “alive day” - the second anniversary of the explosion he survived.

“It just kind of happened to be the same day we got back in town, the way that our travel plans worked out,” he said. “We had a little celebration with the friends and everything.” They started at his parents’ house and visited Toad’s Bar & Grill on the Parkade downtown.

It was much more low key than the August 2012 airport reception and motorcade when he first returned to town.

“But that was nice,” he said of the support shown for him and all local troops who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Morris has been admitted to the University of Northern Iowa School of Business and is eager to start classes.

Meanwhile, Kelly, already with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa, is three semesters into an eight-semester MBA program on scholarship online from the University of Maryland University College. Eventually, she said, she’d like to open her own real estate agency.

After two years of rehabilitation and a whirlwind of activities like an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, benefit events and special outings for wounded warriors, life is returning to normal.

“Right now, even at this point, it kind of feels like a vacation,” Morris said. “… I guess it really hasn’t settled in yet, for me at least.”

“It’s just starting to for me,” Kelly said. “… We’ve finally understood we’re not going to leave here. But I think it’s going to take moving into ‘our house’” to feel some permanence.

They’re still looking for a site on which to build that home, something fairly remote.

“We definitely want to find that perfect piece of land,” Kelly said. “It’s not going to be a five- to seven-year home. It’s going to be more of a forever home. As eager as we are to start building and get into the house, we definitely want to be patient and find what we want.”

Morris is still a few weeks from a medical retirement from the Navy. “We were lucky they let us come home and wait out the rest of the paperwork process,” Kelly said.

Morris might be a candidate for a hand transplant, but that’s on hold for now, at least until they get settled and research in that area develops further.

The couple said they have no wedding plans yet. “It comes up once in every conversation we have with other people,” Kelly said with a smile.

They’ve been through a lot already as a couple.

“I’m actually a huge scrapbooker,” Kelly said. “I’ve been doing a lot when we were at the hospital - scrapbooks full from when we got to the hospital until now.”

Going through some of them while packing to move, “I forgot what (all) we’ve been through - what we’ve done, all the opportunities we’ve had, different surgeries he’s been through,” she said.

They appreciate how far they’ve come. But neither Morris nor Kelly reflect on setbacks or what might have been had he not been injured. They live in the moment.

“I really try not to dwell on that stuff,” Morris said. “That’s one of the reasons we ended up back here,” he said. “It’s a different plan now, which is fine.”

In that plan, among all the places they could live, Cedar Falls fit best.

“It’s where our family and friends are at,” Kelly said. “We both went to high school here; a lot of our high school friends still live in town. I’m one of five kids; he’s one of four. All of our siblings live pretty close here. It’s a growing family. You want to be a part of it. You want to be here to share in your family and be here for everything. It was an easy decision.”

Morris keeps in touch with his service friends and has reunited with fellow EOD comrades annually for a memorial service for those who have served in that field. He was clearing an area of ordnance for a unit of Special Forces soldiers when he was wounded.

The couple still supports events like the annual run in New York City for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which raised funds for their eventual home in partnership with Sinise’s band and foundation. The actor still keeps in touch with them.

“We’ll still help out those organizations that helped us out in the very beginning,” Morris said.

That includes locally. He and Danielle and their families plan to continue the “Taylor Morris Glow Stick 5K” summertime fundraiser run initiated in 2012. Hundreds have participated, and it’s raised several thousand dollars for local charities.

“We hope it just keeps growing, getting bigger,” Morris said. “It’s a fun thing for us to plan.”

Some of the amputee friends they made during his rehabilitation also want to participate.

“We want to say thanks to all the friends and family in the Cedar Valley that helped us get to this point - all the support, really,” Morris said.

“And then, just for welcoming us back,” Kelly said.


Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, https://www.wcfcourier.com



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