Wounded East Texas Soldier Gets Special Homecoming

It was a homecoming, an East Texas soldier will never forget.  Just four months after almost losing his life in Iraq, Sgt. Brad Gruetzner, 25, of Palestine took a break from rehabilitation and came home to see his family and friends, and it was just in time for him to enjoy a very special event.

A parade Saturday morning in Palestine kicked off the annual Dogwood Festival.  It's an event that brings the entire community together every year, but this year the parade featured Sgt. Gruetzner.  Gruetzner grew up in Palestine and went to Slocum High School.

In October, he was deployed to Iraq, and just one month later tragedy hit.  "I remember everything until the blast," said Sgt. Gruetzner. "We found the IED, and we shot at it, and it and no affect until we left, and that's all I remember."

Since the explosion, Gruetzner has been in rehabilitation, first in Florida and now in San Antonio.  He's back in Texas, but says there's nothing like his hometown of Palestine.

"The air smells different," said Gruetzner.  "San Antonio stinks, and Florida when I was there, 'cause I was in Tampa, Florida for awhile at the hospital, and it was horrible.  I mean just being here and the air and the people, family and all that, I like it."

Saturday, with a trail of Patriot Guard Riders behind him, Gruetzner was greeted by the entire community.  "It's pretty weird because I'm used to sitting on the other side of the tracks and wave at those people, and now I'm in the parade," said Gruetzner.

It's a quick trip home for Gruetzner, but a homecoming he says he'll never forget.  "To be in Palestine is great," said Gruetzner. "It's great."

Gruetzner says he'll be heading back to Brook Medical Center in San Antonio in the next couple of days.  After his rehabilitation is complete, he says he'd like to continue working in the military in Ft. Hood.

Molly Reuter, Reporting. mreuter@kltv.com