A hero’s homecoming

Rimpf shows utmost humility upon his arrival to his "key ceremony." He was surrounded by a crowd of family, friends and supporters.
Rimpf shows utmost humility upon his arrival to his "key ceremony." He was surrounded by a crowd of family, friends and supporters.
Rimpf shows utmost humility upon his arrival to his “key ceremony.” He was surrounded by a crowd of family, friends and supporters.

Upon hearing I was covering a veteran’s home donation, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was Nathan Rimpf was a 2006 Leesville grad and lost his legs while fighting in Afghanistan. I was overwhelmed with expectations and preconceived notions. Would I cry or even care? Would I be changed forever or walk away unaffected?

In preparation for the event, I searched the Nathan Rimpf Support Fund on Facebook to learn about the soldier’s story. I was able to gather some background knowledge and view photos and videos of Nathan Rimpf. I was astounded by his humility in a video interview and looked forward to attending the “Key ceremony.”

I’ve always been appreciative of military services, but I had no idea what was in store for that warm November morning. At 9 a.m. on November 8, my mom and I trekked out to Tryon Road for the donation ceremony. As we pulled into the  housing development, we were shocked at the number of vehicles that lined the street for the event.

We followed the sound of a live band and then saw the large crowd of press, building company representatives, military service members and family and friends of Rimpf. The atmosphere was light, unlike the ominous grey sky above us.

The ceremony kicked off with a procession of bagpipes and military band. Following closely behind was Rimpf in a dune buggy. The crowd cheered and waved American flags as he humbly waved and smiled in return. After Rimpf’s great arrival, the sun suddenly replaced the clouds in the sky. The military band then played the National Anthem while a small army group raised the American flag over Rimpf’s new yard.

Following the opening words spoken by the president of the Home Builder’s Association, many speakers and donors offered words of “thanks” to Rimpf. Most notably, two representatives from ECU, Rimpf’s alma mater, played an encouraging phone message from Ruffin McNeill, ECU football coach. They then offered Rimpf a signed football and commemorative helmet that he graciously received.

The speakers mentioned “the grand finale” multiple times, and I realized that it was a surprise for Rimpf. The crowd stirred as the engine of a biplane buzzed above us. The secret was revealed as the director looked upward and the plane began to circle around us. As we were told to focus our attention upward, three parachuters jumped from the plane. The main jumper held the key to Rimpf’s new home.

As we watched the three men descend into the empty lot across the street, the live band played Phillip Phillips’ “Home.” The song was so fitting that even I, the callous teenager, was touched by the emotional atmosphere. Upon their landing, the parachuters approached Rimpf and presented him with the keys to his home.

Rimpf made his final speech and left me absolutely astounded. He said, “Who wouldn’t give an ugly pair of feet to serve these amazing people?”

This statement left me dumbfounded and so honored to have witnessed his ceremony. I was so touched by those words that they stayed with me as I exited the neighborhood.

Prior to this experience, I was unaware of the reverence our service men and women have for their job. Rimpf’s humility not only impressed me, but it provided me with a new appreciation for the freedom our military provides us.

More pictures from the ceremony below.

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