Watched by thousands of people, this is the emotional moment Sgt Rick Clement completed his journey to hell and back.
Five years after stepping on a Taliban bomb and suffering devastating injuries, Rick walked unaided to lay a wreath by the town’s war memorial on Sunday.
The major milestone marked the end of a gruelling journey, which started in the Helmand province when Rick lost both his legs, suffered horrendous internal injuries that mean he can never become a dad, and almost lost his right arm.
Speaking after the incredible feat, Rick, of South Shore, said: “Today has been very emotional and there’s been lots of difficult moments along the way but I never had any doubts I would do it because I’d set my mind on it. But today is not about me it is about people coming together to remember those we have lost, those that fought and those that are still fighting for our country.”
Blackpool mayor coun Peter Callow, who joined Rick at the war memorial and served in the Fleet Air Arm on board the HMS Ark Royal and HMS Centaur for seven years, said: “I have seen enough people killed and maimed and, although I wouldn’t say death is easier than what Rick, 35, has gone through, it is instantaneous. This is with him for the rest of his life and he has battled and battled on and we should all take our hats off to him.”
While leading a foot patrol through the Helmand province in 2010, Rick stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) - a crudely-made Taliban device - and suffered devastating injuries.
Medics said he was lucky to even survive.
And one of those on board the helicopter that airlifted Rick to safety that fateful day was former RAF nurse Hayley Vendyback who travelled to Blackpool to join in commemorations at the war memorial, close to North Pier, at 10.50am yesterday.
Sgt Vendyback served tours of both Iraq and Afghanistan with the Medical Emergency Response Team and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder a year after rescuing Rick and described watching him yesterday as “incredibly moving”.
Watching on beside her were Rick’s mum and auntie, Kay and Maureen Plant. Kay said: “Seeing Rick has been incredibly emotional and I’m so proud. This is the first time I’ve seen him do this as he wanted me to see for the first time on Remembrance Day.”
Rick took his first steps on prosthetic legs - which cost around £50,000 each - last December.
Since then, he has endured several gruelling sessions every week at the Specialist Mobility Rehabilitation Centre in Preston, battling through pain caused by his scar tissue.
After building up his strength and dropping almost a stone in weight, Rick has moved from working on parallel bars to walking with the aid of crutches.
He has also been tearing up and down the beach in a specialist wheelchair.
And although he admits he is unlikely to ever walk long distances, Rick refuses to rule it out and says he has lots exciting challenges ahead.
He said: “It would be too tiring and energy consuming walking around all day but it’s not impossible.
“Now I would like to walk to the car, drive to a restaurant, and have some food with the wheelchair at home.
“Quite a lot of it will depend on how fit I can get myself but I’ve set my sights on doing a few things and I think the first one will be abseiling.”
Ricks remarkable story, which also includes a marriage, divorce, photo shoots with rock star Bryan Adams, tweets from astronaut Chris Hadfield, and the launch of his own charity, will be told in an hour-long documentary later today.
Rick Rebuilt: A Soldier’s Journey will air on Forces TV, available on Sky, Virgin, and Freesat, at 9pm.
The channel’s welfare reporter, Victoria Smith, said: “People like Rick are an inspiration to us all. He has lost so much yet has turned his life around into one of hope, courage, and inspiration.
“He is a warrior with a core of steel and working with him this past year has been an incredibly humbling and moving experience.”
And war veteran 73-year-old Ted Davies says Rick epitomises the spirit of Remembrance Day. The Bispham resident, who served in The Royal Marine Commandos for 22 years, said: “Rick’s will and desire to never give up is something that’s instilled in you when serving in the forces. This day is for people like him and is an incredibly special day every year. Those who serve alongside you are like family and that never changes and it is those memories and those people that we will remember, at least on this day, forever.”