PORTLAND (AP) – After 11 surgeries, Marine Cpl. Eric McCue of South Portland says he is ready to put his crutches away, walk by himself and hit a round of golf.

McCue, 21, is in a Greenville, N.C., hospital, recovering from an April 1 land mine explosion in Iraq that resulted in his losing two toes on his left foot.

McCue has gone through a tough recovery. He has had skin grafts and lost more than 30 pounds – he now carries about 150 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.

But he said he might be able to shed his crutches as early as Tuesday. And he’s eager to come home to Maine and get on a golf course.

“Once I’m up and walking and I lose the crutches, it shouldn’t take that long to get it all back,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse. The injuries don’t bother me at all…I could have lost a leg, I could have lost my life.”

McCue was among the Camp Lejeune, N.C., infantrymen who marched into Nasiriyah through blinding sandstorms and put out the word that they would be accepting prisoners of war.

The next day, McCue was taking his turn handling those who chose to surrender.

As he and another Marine headed back toward the building where his unit was holed up, a land mine exploded under his feet.

In his home town of South Portland, where his father was a police officer for 26 years, McCue has become something of a celebrity. Signs outside businesses carry his name and wish him well, and schools and churches have sent him letters and packages.

In the days after the explosion, he got letters from people who have had legs or feet amputated, letting him know that they live full and active lives.

McCue is humbled by it all, but prefers to play down his injury, play down his sacrifice.

“I’ve probably read over a thousand letters from people in schools, ‘Thank you for being so brave,”‘ he said. “Most of the time I get them from people I don’t even know.”

The correspondence also means a lot to his family.

“It’s a great feeling that people obviously recognize what he did for his country,” said his father, Jeffrey McCue. “We obviously appreciate that people haven’t forgotten. We’re still getting cards and phone calls.”

AP-ES-05-20-03 0216EDT

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