MANATEE -- Several hundred residents turned out today for a rousing, emotional welcome home to six combat wounded veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The veterans, who suffered amputations, spinal cord and other injuries, seemed overwhelmed by the size and warmth of the welcome as they stepped off a jet at Dolphin Aviation.
"It's an amazing feeling to have the whole city come out," said Staff Sgt. William Castillo of Orlando, who lost a leg in Iraq. "It means a lot to us."
One of those in the crowd, Chip Munro of the Patriot Riders, overheard Castillo's comment, and responded, "You mean everything to us."
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The crowd surged up to the veterans, who were given a pass from the hospital to take part in Operation Second Chance, for a few days of fishing and relaxation.
They wanted to shake their hands, give the vets a hug and say thank you.
There were few dry eyes in the house after the crowd spontaneously began singing "God Bless America."
"We are honoring our patriots. They are our true heroes," Carole Holland said.
The group was escorted by Sgt. Adam Kisielweski, who lost an arm and a leg in Iraq.
"Some of our missions are real low-key. We're in and we're out before people know we were there," Kisielweski said.
"It was a honor for me getting to see this. I can't thank you enough," he said.