The kitchen was the first place Staff Sgt. Eugene Simpson Jr. wheeled himself when he returned home from three months in and out of hospitals.
He eyed a chocolate cake on the kitchen table and promised that the red, white and blue sprinkled dessert wouldn’t last through the morning.
In the kitchen Eugene Simpson Sr. pulled at his son’s ears and mother Pearl Simpson rushed to talk to a television reporter, a neighbor, a newspaper reporter, another neighbor.
Their son was finally home.
After three busy months of traveling from Dale City to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to Dale City, then to Richmond, the Simpsons were glad to have their son to themselves.
“We’re going to do whatever he wants to do,” said Pearl Simpson.
Her son’s wounds healed faster than doctors anticipated and the 27-year-old came home from Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center months earlier than scheduled.
Doctors originally thought it would take the soldier six months to recover from major injuries sustained in a bomb blast in Iraq.
Simpson was riding in a Humvee April 7 and saw a man holding a car alarm right before an improvised explosive device detonated next to the vehicle.
The shrapnel flew in all directions, hitting soldiers and severing Simpson Jr.’s spine. It sliced his legs and feet.
Doctors said he might have a chance to walk again, but for now, Simpson Jr. is going to get his own wheelchair.
Maybe a special one for playing basketball, he said.
On Friday neighbors who have known Simpson Jr. for years greeted him in their front yard, sharing hugs and shaking hands.
Prince William County Police Department’s ‘D’ Squad showed up to share their thanks.
“It sort of makes us feel like what we do pales in comparison to the service he did and the sacrifices he made,” said Lt. David Argenbright.
Learning to use his borrowed wheelchair and moving up and down stairs was like training back in the Army, Simpson Jr. had said.
Family was his motivation.
“I felt I worked a lot harder because I knew I wanted to come home,” he said. “I had something to look forward to.”
For the next few weeks Simpson, Jr. said he’s going to relax.
Then his four sons and wife will arrive from Germany and all he’ll have to do is watch his boys grow up, he said.
And decide what kind of car to buy, said his father.
Not only will wheelchair accommodations have to be made to his vehicle, the Simpsons have to widen doorways and pave a sidewalk to their Dale City home’s basement door.
The Simpsons have been in touch with a local organization that helps people make improvements to their homes.
Pearl Simpson said a representative from Home Depot offered them free lumber if they have to build anything else.
Neighbor Marcia Mills has known the young Eugene since he was in elementary school.
She praised his family for being faithful and close to each other.
“A family unlike this would probably have him in some sort of nursing facility,” said Mills. “Not them. Gene is coming home.”