Va. Beach vet's love story takes him to White House
WASHINGTON, Jan 21, 2013 (The Virginian-Pilot - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Eight months ago, Taylor Morris was flat on his back, staring up at blue desert sky as blood poured from him in Afghanistan.
A faulty metal detector, a misplaced step a moment earlier, and then... boom.
The young Navy bomb-disposal expert knew -- even then, with the blast still ringing through his head -- that his life would never be the same.
But he didn't expect this.
Morris, just the fifth quadruple amputee to survive the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is one of eight "citizen co-chairs" selected to join President Barack Obama today for his second inauguration.
Each of the guests are said to reflect "the core values" of America.
It's just the latest in a long line of honors for the soft-spoken sailor, an Iowa native assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 12 at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach. Morris has become something of a celebrity since returning from war.
"I never imagined this would be my life," Morris said from his room at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he has been recovering. "I never imagined I would be here in the first place, and I never imagined I'd be invited by the president to do anything."
Within months of the improvised bomb blast in May, videos and photos of Morris walking on prosthetics and learning to feed himself had been posted to the Internet, making him an instant star in his hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa.
A few sick children and other service members who lost limbs wrote letters and emails thanking Morris for inspiring them.
In September, the story went viral.
The online news website BuzzFeed ran a series of photos chronicling the relationship between Morris and his high school sweetheart, Danielle Kelly, who rarely has left his side.
She's pictured hugging him shortly after he returned to the United States, spotting him during a workout, slow dancing with him at a friend's wedding, and carrying him on her back up the stairs at their condo in Virginia Beach.
The post, titled "A Love Story In 22 Pictures," has been viewed more than 4 million times and sparked a blitz of national media attention, including a sit-down interview with Matt Lauer on NBC's "Today" show.
His story has struck a chord: A post about him on TheChive, an entertainment website targeted toward young men, generated more than $250,000 in donations for Morris and Kelly to build their dream cabin.
It's not just anonymous guys on the Internet who have reached out: Morris has taken rides with NASCAR stars, hung out in the locker room with professional football players and will soon get behind the wheel with a famous stunt-car driver.
Morris hasn't sought the attention, but it just keeps coming. He said he has barely been able to keep up.
A shot of him waving to a camera during physical therapy was among the clips that appeared in a Google ad recapping the biggest and most inspirational moments of 2012. The commercial ran nationally on New Year's Eve.
"Honestly, I haven't even seen that," Morris said of the ad. "Physical therapy is demanding enough by itself. Everything else is a whirlwind."
Private and unassuming by nature, Morris said he hasn't shied from the attention for one reason -- he continues to receive notes from people who say that his story has inspired them to live more full and meaningful lives.
"It's a lot; sometimes I feel like I'm barely hanging on," he said. "But it's all worth it."
Morris will ride in the inaugural parade today and is invited to attend the inaugural ball tonight.
An honor, sure, but it's not the first time he's been Obama's personal guest.
The president visited Morris in the hospital in June. Obama surprised him a few weeks later by interrupting a White House tour Morris was on, to give him his Purple Heart medal. The president invited the couple to watch fireworks from the White House lawn on the Fourth of July. And he made the sailor's recovery a focus of his speech on Veterans Day.
"I've often said the most humbling part of my job is serving as commander in chief, and one of the reasons is that every day I get to meet heroes," Obama said during his November speech at Arlington National Cemetery. "I met Taylor at Walter Reed, and then in July at the White House, I presented him with the Purple Heart. And right now, hanging on a wall in the West Wing is a photo of that day, a photo of Taylor smiling wide and standing tall."
Obama paused for applause, then added: "I should point out that Taylor couldn't make it here today because he and Danielle are out kayaking."
In a couple weeks, they'll be on the sidelines at the Super Bowl.
And after that
"I don't know," Morris said. "I have a hard enough time keeping up with today."
Mike Hixenbaugh, 757-446-2949, firstname.lastname@example.org
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