Monday, July 26, 2004

Injured soldier finds support upon return

Family, friends, strangers appreciate sacrifice

By Reid Forgrave
Enquirer staff writer

ANDERSON TWP. - Home for the first time this weekend since he was seriously injured July 7 in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq, Staff Sgt. Paul Brondhaver went to Gold Star Chili with his wife, Lisa.

Tanner Brondhaver, 10, holds the door open as Morgan, 6, and Conner, 3, lead Paul into the house while his wife, Lisa, follows behind.
(Enquirer photo/SARAH CONARD)
Brondhaver wore his desert camouflage uniform and used a wooden cane. He ordered a four-way with onions and two chili-cheese sandwiches.

He got a gesture that reminded him how appreciative his country is for his military service.

"This lady I'd never met before, she came over and said, 'Your meal is on my husband and me,' " Brondhaver said Sunday. "And then she just left. I felt like throwing away my cane, running after them, and giving them a big hug for their support."

That's what life has been like for Brondhaver, a 35-year-old father of three who works as director of the Mount Washington Community Center during his civilian days. He is in the 216th Combat Engineer Battalion.

While in Iraq, Staff Sgt. Paul Brondhaver began a drive to collect socks for Iraqi children who have none. The sock drive continues at all the Cincinnati Recreation Commission community centers, where packages of unopened socks are being collected. For more information, call the Mount Washington Community Center at (513) 232-4762.
Brondhaver visited Coney Island Amusement Park, where for years he has brought community-center teenagers for summer jobs. When he arrived, an announcement blared over the loudspeaker: "Attention, Sunlite Pool patrons. Paul Brondhaver is back from Iraq. Give him a round of applause!"

He got a standing ovation. Kids walked up and saluted him.

"It was like I was a celebrity. Just awesome," Brondhaver said.

Brondhaver's recovery is far from complete. He walks hunched over, with a limp. Scars dot his body from where shrapnel peppered him. A scar remains on his neck, a hair away from his jugular.

"It's a miracle," he said. "God did his work.''

Aug. 13, Brondhaver will receive a Purple Heart at Fort Knox. Brondhaver must visit the hospital there every two weeks.

Brondhaver still hopes to return to Iraq.

"I want to heal, and I want to get back to my boys," Brondhaver said.



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