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A second homecoming

An hour before dawn this morning, in a pouring rain, wounded Iraq war veteran Dan McKinney returned to his old law enforcement job at the Port of Miami, and received a hero's welcome. The many hugs, handshakes and warm wishes were a far cry from the reception he endured 37 years ago when he also returned injured from Vietnam, and was cursed by angry crowds. On tonight's broadcast, you'll get a chance to meet McKinney and hear from one of the many people at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), who took extraordinary steps to support and protect him this time around.

Nearly two years ago, the now 55-year-old McKinney was called up by the Army Reserves, and was sent to Iraq to train policemen. But while he was taking a lunch break at an Iraqi compound, a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman walked in the door and set off a deadly explosive. Two Americans were killed, and four were injured. McKinney suffered a severe abdominal injury. He would spend the next year and a half in treatment and rehabilitation facilities.


I met McKinney a few weeks ago, with the intent of using his story as part of a larger report on wounded vets supporting each other at a conference in Orlando. But, I quickly changed my mind and decided to feature him on his own after he gave an extraordinary account of all the people who had rallied to help him. He insisted this outpouring actually accelerated his recovery.

He told of incredible support from his boss, Thomas Winkowski, who went to see him at the Walter Reed Army Hospital promising that no matter how badly McKinney was hurt, no matter how disabled he was, he would always have a job at the Port of Miami. Jose Ramirez, the CBP port director, also pulled out all the stops, calling the hospital daily to make sure all was well. CBP officer Stephanie Mays, a close friend of McKinney's, was actually assigned to be with him at Walter Reed.  She says the first thing McKinney did when she saw him all broken up in the hospital was to apologize for getting hurt.   

As he recovered, McKinney was flooded with cards and letters from CBP officers and their families from around the world, too many to thank individually. Even schoolchildren wished him well. One of them wrote, "You're not lonely, you have friends here in Florida, and I hope you get better." Even for a tough old soldier-cop, it was powerful and emotional tonic.

This morning, McKinney finally came home again, well enough recovered to arrive for his first day back to work. He found himself surrounded by a crowd of blue uniforms -- officers young and old who had each played a role in bringing him back. When asked how he felt, he said simply, "I feel very humble."