RONAN - If you're traveling on U.S. Highway 93 on Wednesday night you could get the impression that homes across two counties are on fire.
Half a dozen fire departments from Missoula to Polson are set to help give Lance Cpl. Thomas Parker a hero's welcome home.
The 21-year-old Marine from Ronan, who lost both his legs in Afghanistan in December, arrives back in Montana on Wednesday for the first time since the explosion.
Parker and his mother, Lisa Jennison, are due into Missoula International Airport at 6:50 p.m. for a weeklong visit.
Immediate family will be allowed up to the gate area to greet Parker, a 2008 Ronan High School graduate.
But the family anticipates - and welcomes - plenty of other well-wishers at the airport as well, where the Marine Corps League Honor Guard will welcome Parker home in the lobby.
Tim Corbett of Ronan, Jennison's longtime partner, told the Missoulian on Tuesday that beyond the Allegiant Airlines flight's scheduled 6:50 p.m. landing, there is no timetable for the rest of the evening.
But once the immediate family has met Parker at the gate and had a chance to visit, "We'll turn Tomy loose on the public" downstairs in the lobby, Corbett said.
Then, the Patriot Guard Riders will escort Parker to Polson, where he'll be staying at the wheelchair-accessible Kwa Taq Nuk Resort during his week home from the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.
The Missoula Rural Fire Department will escort the caravan to the Wye, and a succession of fire trucks from volunteer departments in Frenchtown, Arlee, St. Ignatius, Ronan and Polson will pick it up and take over along the way.
The procession will make detours into both St. Ignatius and Ronan - on the latter, they'll pull off Highway 93 and travel down Main Street to St. Luke Hospital, then return to the main route via Round Butte Road and Old Highway 93.
Parker is also expected to attend a big benefit for his family Saturday at the Ronan Community Center, where an all-day spaghetti feed and silent auction will morph into a nighttime live auction and concert by Rob Quist and Great Northern.
Parker stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Dec. 11, just four days after he had rushed to the aid of two fellow members of his unit who had done the same. Parker's left leg was amputated at the hip, his right above the knee, and he lost all the fingers on his left hand as well.
He spent seven weeks undergoing multiple surgeries at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., before transferring to San Diego earlier this month to continue his rehabilitation.
Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.