Monday, August 2, 2004

Church gives hero's welcome to hurt soldier



By Reid Forgrave
Enquirer staff writer

[photo]
Staff Sgt. Paul Brondhaver and his wife, Lisa, step down from the podium at First Baptist Church in Glen Este. The church presented them with a check for $7,500 raised by the congregation at a special service.
The Enquirer/SARAH CONARD
UNION TWP. - It was an ovation befitting a king, the church erupting for more than a minute as Staff Sgt. Paul Brondhaver limped to the podium. The noise didn't stop until the injured soldier cut it off like a maestro.

And it became a receiving line befitting a hero, as the scores of soldiers from past and present filed toward Brondhaver, saluted him and hugged him as a bagpipe played "Amazing Grace."

After Brondhaver's welcome-home ceremony Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Glen Este quieted down, the 36-year-old soldier spoke in halting phrases - sometimes punctuated by laughter, other times by tears - and recounted the harrowing attack in Iraq less than a month ago that nearly took his life.

"We knew our Lord would give us courage and strength to do what we had to do," said Brondhaver, standing in front of his wife and three young children.

"He was there with me that day. It was the most difficult day of my life. But I got through it with the grace of God."

"Amen!" the church resounded.

The crowd that packed the church included Keith and Carolyn Maupin, parents of Spc. Keith Matthew Maupin of Union Township, the American soldier who was captured by Iraqi insurgents after an attack on his convoy April 9.

It was an emotionally charged service. The Rev. Brent Snook pulled out the tiny, bloodstained Bible that Brondhaver clutched as he lay injured and his comrade, Pfc. Samuel L. Bowen, lay dying, both victims of a rocket-propelled grenade attack on their convoy.

"I feel guilty being here in front of you," Brondhaver said. "I should be over there with my soldiers. Until they're all back safe, a chapter in my life is not complete."

As churchgoers and military officials proclaimed Brondhaver a hero and spoke of the Purple Heart ceremony that will honor him Aug. 13, the soldier sat with his 3-year-old son Conner on his lap and smiled.

And when Snook spoke of the "hero's hero" - Jesus Christ - Brondhaver beamed and nodded his head.

E-mail rforgrave@enquirer.com