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Wounded vet receives unexpected homecoming

On what was supposed to be his last day in the Army, Jamvis Armour was critically wounded. He returned to a homecoming he never expected.
/ Source: TODAY

When Jamvis Armour was critically wounded in May 2003 in Iraq, he never imagined the homecoming he would receive. On the day that changed his life forever — what was also supposed to be his final day in the Army — Spc. Armour, 25, wasn't even supposed to be on duty. He had the day off. But as a favor to a soldier who wasn't feeling well, Amour volunteered for a mission that ended when his vehicle was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade. "Today" show national correspondent Melissa Stark spoke with Armour and the community that made his homecoming all the more special.

Jamvis Armour: It's one day I'll never forget.

The doctors thought he wouldn't make it.

Melissa Stark: Did you think you were dying?

Armour: I said, "I can't die, I have got to get back home, you know, for my wife and kids."  And my life wasn't supposed to end like this.

Waiting for him at home was his wife Kierstin — his high-school sweetheart — and their three small children.

Stark: Kierstin, the whole experience must have been terrifying for you. Did you think that you'd lost him?

Kierstin Armour: Yes. They said, "Prepare for the worst." And that's when I thought, "You know, he's not going to make it."

Armour did make it, but at a huge price — third-degree burns on 40 percent of his body, a lost arm, a detached retina, and a severely damaged leg. After undergoing over a year of rehab, Jamvis was ready to go home to Pensacola, Fla.

But his return came only weeks after Hurricane Ivan left thousands of people homeless.

Stark: What kind of difficulties were you going through in trying to find a house here?

Armour: It was real hard.  There were a lot of houses that were damaged. But a blessing happened.

That blessing came in the form of a group of people in the community who made it their mission to do right by Armour and his family. Sue Straughn, a local TV anchor, was one of them.

Sue Straughn: Many of us were displaced.  Our families were displaced.  We didn't have homes.  But here was a soldier who had given so much.  Who had battled for 18 months for his very life, and finally he was able to come back home.  He needed a home to come back to.

Working all the angles, members of the community teamed up with various government and military agencies to arrange for the donation of a four-bedroom house, complete with furniture and appliances.

Stark: When you found out what was being planned on your behalf, what was your reaction?

Armour: I was real happy.  And I can't thank everybody enough for embracing our family as their own and helping us out as much as they can.

Stark: Kierstin, what was your reaction?

Kierstin Armour: I couldn't believe it was ours.  I was happy and excited, you know, beside myself.

Stark: What has been the best part about getting this house?

Armour: No mortgage has been the best part.  It's overwhelming.

But even with their new home, Jamvis still copes with nearly constant pain and an uncertain medical future. A heavy burden — especially for a family with three young children.

Kierstin Armour: The children have been excellent.  They have already accepted it.  They help him, and they know he's special.  They call him their hero.

Armour: I don't call myself, consider myself, a hero.  I consider myself a survivor.

He's a survivor who motivated a community to rise to the occasion.

Dr. Ezra Merritt, retired military dentist and member of committee to help Armour: It's not enough to raise the flag. We can't all go to Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, but we can be there for them when they come back, so they understand that they are appreciated.

Mike Ferguson, civilian liaison to secretary of the Army and member of committee to help Armour: Can we all do above and beyond the call of duty?  Because these are people who've done it for us.  We need to do it for them.

Straughn: There certainly are other communities that can do the same thing.  And I hope that we are all reminded that it is a tremendous price that our service men and women pay. We can talk about giving support, but what a thing it is to show it.

Hometown support — sure to warm a soldier's spirit.

Armour: It's such a blessing, you know, to see a lot of people behind us and supporting us and our efforts. It feels good. It touched my heart.

Jamvis still has a long road of healing ahead. But he's hoping to be able to devote more time to his big love — music, composing, singing and producing.