The official ceremony awarding U.S. Army Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry the Purple Heart was over Wednesday afternoon when some of the military personnel in attendance began singing "The Big Red One," the anthem of the 1st Infantry Division.
They were soon joined by another voice - that of the 2010 Frontier High School graduate and 1st Infantry Division member in whose hospital room they were gathered.
"After they kicked it off there, it was kind of cool 'cause Kyle started singing it with them," said Hockenberry's uncle, Jim Hall.
Photo by Laura Rauch. (c) 2011 Stars and Stripes
U.S. Army Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry is tended to by medics after being wounded in a blast from an improvised explosive device on June 15 in Afghanistan in this picture taken by a Stars and Stripes photographer. A photo of Hockenberry receiving his medal was not available, but Kyle and his family chose to share this photo instead.
Hockenberry received the Purple Heart, given to service members killed or wounded in the line of duty, in a room at Brooke Army Medical Center. The 19-year-old Reno resident arrived there nine days after being critically wounded in an improvised explosive device blast on June 15 in Afghanistan. Both legs above the knee and his left arm above the elbow have been amputated.
Hall and his wife were by their nephew's side for the ceremony, along with Hockenberry's parents, brother, three of his cousins and more than 20 soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division's headquarters in Fort Riley, Kan. Everyone in the room wore protective coverings to prevent infection and Hall said 20 to 30 more Army members were outside the room.
Afterward, Hall said, the family was approached by a photographer with the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes, who shared with them a picture taken shortly after the explosion that wounded Hockenberry.
In it, medics are working on Hockenberry in a helicopter. His shirt has been removed and a tattoo that reads "For those I love I will sacrifice" is visible on his side.
"It was just as emotional as the ceremony itself," Hall said of seeing the picture.
Throughout Hockenberry's multiple surgeries, including skin grafts, doctors have worked around that tattoo and left it intact, he said.
"His tattoo really sums it all up," Hall said.
Hall said his nephew is continuing to make improvements, describing the difference in his condition now and when the Halls left San Antonio three weeks ago as "night and day."
"He's real humble," Hall said. "He really doesn't like the word 'hero.' So we call him - he's our miracle."
Hockenberry's sacrifice for his country has been celebrated locally with a variety of events and fundraisers and around the country and the world in a Facebook group called "Praying for Kyle Hockenberry."
As of Wednesday it had 876 members.
Among them is John Woolgar, a 55-year-old resident of West Byfleet, Surrey, England. He learned about Hockenberry's situation on Facebook, joined the group and launched an electronic "tribute balloon" using an app that allows people to show their support for a person or cause. So far, nearly 600 people have "grabbed" the balloon.
"I see him (Hockenberry) as a friend who is in trouble, who deserves the highest medal we as citizens of the world can give, which are our prayers and best wishes," Woolgar said in an email to The Marietta Times.