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Injured Hammond vet comes home to hero’s welcome

Pvt. Douglas Rachowicz reacts after recognizing Zach Carter crowd people welcoming him home outside Cabellas Hammond Tuesday April 10 2012.

Pvt. Douglas Rachowicz reacts after recognizing Zach Carter in the crowd of people welcoming him home outside Cabellas in Hammond Tuesday April 10, 2012. Carter was a medic on the scene in Afghanistan who helped saved Rachowicz's life after he and other members of the 713th Engineer Battion were injured by a roadside improvised explosive device. Rachowicz's son Dylan, 12, is at left. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 11, 2012 2:57AM

Three months after a roadside bomb killed four of his comrades and left him in a coma, Army Pvt. Douglas Rachowicz finally got to return home as about a hundred people, including friends, family and the Patriot Guard, welcomed him Tuesday afternoon with shouts and honks.

“Welcome home!” the crowd shouted as Rachowicz pulled up in a white limousine at the Cabela’s store, thanking everyone for their well wishes.

The Hammond father of two was injured Jan. 6 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, as his truck, the third in a convoy looking to clear improvised explosive devices, drove over a bomb that wasn’t detected.

The blast killed four soldiers: Sgt. Brian J. Leonhardt of Merrillville; Spc. Robert J. Tauteris Jr. of Hamlet, Ind.; Spc. Christopher A. Patterson of Aurora; and Staff Sgt. Jonathan Metzger, of Indianapolis. And it left Rachowicz in an induced coma with a broken pelvis, cracked ribs, deflated lungs, a cracked jaw and other injuries.

Tuesday was the first time he was able to return home, and the Patriot Guard and members of the community welcomed him with a line of American flags.

Rachowicz, who was walking with the help of a cane, shook hand after hand as people came up to thank him for his service.

“It’s good to be home, that’s for sure,” he said.

Rachowicz said he plans on enjoying time with his family for the next month he’s home, but that eventually, depending on his health, he would like to return to the military.

“It’s going to be a long road,” he said.

His mother, Kathy Rachowicz, said it was wonderful to see her son back home. The family has gone to visit him at the hospital in Bethesda, Md., she said, and most recently saw him about three weeks ago. She said she hopes his recovery will help to honor his fellow soldiers who died. More tests await him after his month off, though, to determine how his back is doing, she said.

Tuesday’s ceremony also was the first time Rachowicz saw Spc. Zach Carter, of Hobart, a medic in the last truck in Rachowicz’s ill-fated convoy. Rachowicz told the gathered crowd that he owed his life to Carter and he would have likely died without his help.

“He’s my hero, right here,” Rachowicz said.

Carter said his leave, which ends Saturday, happened to coincide with that of his friend.

“It’s just great to see him up and well, smiling again,” Carter said.

Some of Leonhardt’s relatives Leonhardt also attended, including his widow. His aunt, Debbie Leonhardt-Rosenwinkel, said she had been following Rachowicz’s progress. Her nephew and Rachowicz met through the Army, she said, and became close, spending a lot of their time together while in Afghanistan.

“It’s so good to have him come this far,” she said. “It’s amazing.

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