An Emotional Prince Harry: 'I Can't, I Can't Accept This' After Getting Dog Tag from Wounded U.S. Marine
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Prince Harry gives great hugs.
An emotional Harry embraced wounded U.S. Marine Kirstie Ennis at Buckingham Palace on Sunday as she handed him a final poignant memento of a lost colleague at the end of a marathon trek around Britain.
Harry, 31, welcomed Ennis, 24 – who was severely injured in a 2012 helicopter crash in Afghanistan – and her five fellow walkers at the triumphant end of their 1,000-mile journey through the country.
Ennis, who was due to have her left leg amputated below the knee this summer but put it off so that she could come to the U.K. and undertake the charity walk, used the moment to offer Harry a treasured dog tag. She had left 24 other dog tags around the U.K. during the walk made with fellow U.S. Marine Andrew Bement and four British ex-servicemen.
She had planned to place the last one at Buckingham Palace, but when the moment came, she was overwhelmed and pressed it into Harry’s hand.
“No I can’t, I can’t accept this,” a clearly moved Harry said.
“Please, you know what this means to me, I want you to,” Ennis replied, fighting back her tears. They then hugged.
The dog tag was in honor of Corporal Baune, from Minnesota, who died in Helmand Province in 2012 after his unit was hit by blast from an IED while on patrol.
Baune “passed away just 10 days before my helicopter went down and I was injured and the two guys who got blown up with him, Brad and Chris, and are missing their legs now have been part of my own support network in dealing with my own injuries,” Ennis told reporters.
“They were my rocks for a long time, we grew together in hospital. His wife, Colleen, is absolutely amazing. He was just 21.
“I look at situations like that, he never came home, he had a wife and a family but he never came home. The six of us here today did come home, we are actually the lucky ones. The least we can do is share their legacy and honor their memory.
“Harry was reluctant to accept it at first because he knows how much it means [to me]. He has helped me lay a couple of them and was hesitant to take them as he knows how much it means to me. I told him he had to.”
Finishing the walk, Ennis said, was “bittersweet,” adding, “It was quite painful and there is nothing you can do to prepare for that, even when you are able-bodied, much less when you have debilitating injuries. It was quite the challenge. I have never felt so disabled in my life at times.
“But to say that we have done it now, it is a great feeling. We have pushed our limits. I have been here for three months and a huge part of me will be left here when I return home.”
Harry, who visited the White House on October 28 to help promote his upcoming Invictus Games in Orlando this May, is “one of the lads” among veterans, a source who knows him well recently told PEOPLE.
The veteran of two tours of Afghanistan “is somebody they are able to relate to very easily and importantly he can relate back to them,” says Ed Parker, co-founder of Walking with the Wounded. “He’s genuinely interested in hearing people’s back-stories. He wants to get under their skin so he can take that understanding and experience to help others in the future.