Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Wounded warrior Cpl. Michael Nicholson returns to huge Tampa welcome

TAMPA

A voice shouted through a crowd of hundreds.

"Here he comes!"

And a roar of cheers ripped through Tampa International Airport on Sunday afternoon, a building wave of applause for a young Tampa man in uniform.

Everyone wanted to shake his hand. Everyone wanted to hug him. This homecoming, they said, was an answer to their prayers.

Marine Cpl. Michael Nicholson, 22, rolled his wheelchair down the aisle. He wore three prosthetics under his uniform, but when people thanked him, they looked him in his eyes.

Serving in Afghanistan last July, Nicholson lost both legs and part of his left arm in a blast from a hidden explosive. He has undergone 23 surgeries, recovering at a naval hospital in Bethesda, Md.

Nicholson arrived Sunday in Tampa for the first time since being wounded, flying in with his family for a month-long leave from therapy.

At the airport, strangers lingered as long as they could before their flights, curious about the color guard and bagpipes. Friends and supporters, including the Marine Corps League, carried banners and waved flags.

"He needs to know what he did was worth it," said Leanne Bivens, 19, a freshman in the University of South Florida's Navy ROTC program.

Valrico resident and Air Force reservist Travis Lemon brought along his daughters, ages 3 and 4.

"These guys need to see what a real hero is," he said, "because we watch a lot of Disney."

His wife, Lydia, explained to the children that a war hero — the real-life version of their fairy-tale cartoon good guys — was coming home.

• • •

Over the last several months, Nicholson has adjusted to a new life.

"Mike has come a long way," his family wrote in a blog post earlier this month.

In October, Nicholson started walking with prosthetic legs. In November, he danced with a date at the Marine Corps Ball. In January, he cycled from Miami to Key West with the Wounded Warriors Project.

"He's kicking butt," said close friend Megan Jensen, 23. "He's ready to live his life the new normal way."

Like always, his friends say, they plan to take Nicholson to MacDinton's Irish Pub and hang out in his parents' South Tampa home, newly renovated by volunteers for accessibility.

Gone for nearly a year, Nicholson's first wish was to see Bayshore Boulevard. Outside the airport's baggage claim, motorcycles and patrol cars waited to escort him there, where people had been invited to come out and wave flags along the route.

Amid a very public welcoming came a moment of privacy:

His family and friends circled his wheelchair protectively as Nicholson moved to get into the car. Inside the shield and blocked from the view of cameras, Nicholson adjusted his prosthetic arm. He stood, with a little help. He took a step toward the curb and another step down before getting into the car — a still-new transition.

"It's a whole new world," explained Bobby Puckett, 38, a St. Petersburg resident and Air Force veteran with Amputees Together. "It's a new self-image."

At a reception in the pavilion of Christ the King Catholic Church in South Tampa, fellow Marines in dress blues surrounded the car again. Nicholson soon reappeared in his own dress uniform, decorated with a Purple Heart.

"I can't tell you how good it is to have you home, Michael," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who attended as a Christ the King parishioner.

Nicholson's mother thanked the church and community before Nicholson took the microphone.

"I want to thank everybody here," he said. "You guys have been with me since the start ... You guys are family."

As he paused, the crowd bolstered him with shouts of "God bless you!" and the Marines' "Oorah!"

"Y'all have done so much," Nicholson continued, "and I just ask you to do one more thing for me: Keep praying for the guys over in Afghanistan right now."

He stayed on stage as hundreds lined up to greet him. They told him they were proud of him, showering him with gifts of flags, posters, mementos and even Gasparilla beads.

When it was time to leave, they still crowded around him.

Nicholson rolled his wheelchair back to the car, back behind the line of Marines.

He rode a couple of blocks away to a quiet flag-lined street, and then he was finally home.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443.

Follow his story

To follow the recovery of Cpl. Michael Nicholson as told by friend and family, go to caringbridge.org/visit/cplmichaelnicholson or facebook.com/michaelnicholsonfund.

Wounded warrior Cpl. Michael Nicholson returns to huge Tampa welcome 02/19/12 [Last modified: Sunday, February 19, 2012 11:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa man driving ATV killed in Gibsonton crash on U.S. 41

    Public Safety

    GIBSONTON — A 24-year-old man driving an all-terrain vehicle died Monday afternoon in a crash on U.S. 41, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

  2. Questions about Russia chase Trump during first Israel visit

    World

    JERUSALEM — President Donald Trump solemnly placed a note in the ancient stones of Jerusalem's Western Wall on Monday, sending a signal of solidarity to an ally he's pushing to work harder toward peace with the Palestinians. But his historic gesture- and his enthusiastic embrace of Israel's leader - were shadowed …

    President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after making joint statements, Monday in Jerusalem. [AP photo]
  3. Data breach exposes 469 Social Security numbers, thousands of concealed weapons holders

    Corporate

    Social Security numbers for up to 469 people and information about thousands of concealed weapons holders were exposed in a data breach at Florida the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The breach, which the agency believes happened about two weeks ago, occurred in an online payments system, spokesperson …

    Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam on Monday that nearly 500 people may have had their Social Security numbers obtained in a data breach in his office.
[Times file photo]

  4. Trigaux: Can Duke Energy Florida's new chief grow a business when customers use less power?

    Energy

    Let's hope Harry Sideris has a bit of Harry Houdini in him.

    Duke Energy Florida president Harry Sideris laid out his prioriities for the power company ranging from improved customer service to the use of more large-scale solar farms to provide electricity. And he acknowledged a critical challenge: People are using less electricity these days. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  5. Editorial: Preserve wild Florida before it's too late

    Editorials

    The last dairy farm in Hillsborough County has milked its final cow, the pastures sold to developers who will build 1,000 new homes. The remnants of the last commercial citrus grove in Pinellas County, where the Sunshine State's famed industry began in the 19th century, were sold last year to make room for 136 homes. …

    As dairy farms and citrus groves disappear, much more needs to be done to avoid paving over Florida’s wild spaces.