Kyle Hockenberry would do it all again.
Speaking to The Marietta Times from San Antonio, Texas, the 2010 Frontier High School graduate said he doesn't regret joining the Army, even after the June 15 blast from an improvised explosive device that cost him most of both legs and his left arm.
"I just always wanted to fight for my country," said Hockenberry, 20. "I'd do it all over again if I could."
Photo courtesy of Jim and Stacy Hall
Army Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry, front, spent Christmas with family members including, from left, cousins Danton and Tanden Miller, uncle Jim Hall and aunt Stacy Hall.
Hockenberry continues to progress in his recovery since the June explosion. He was discharged from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio in Nov-ember and is staying in a two-bedroom apartment while he undergoes rehabilitation at the nearby Center for the Intrepid. He's been fitted with a prosthetic arm and is expected to take his first steps on prosthetic legs this week.
"Physically it's been difficult at times," he said. "I've been having to relearn how to do things."
But Hockenberry said he's come to terms with his situation.
The 2011 top stories
1. Reno resident Kyle Hockenberry injured in Afghanistan
2. Noble County's Craigslist murder case
3. Local union members fight Ohio's Senate Bill 5
4. The area prepares for fracking, leasing mineral rights
5. Earthquakes rock the area and the East Coast
6. Warren Local Schools eliminate busing for high school students, face financial issues
7. Bath salts abuse rampant, Marietta and Ohio ban substances
8. Former Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews elected to a new term
9. Sam Cook, former CEO, county commissioner, Safetytown founder, dies
10. Construction bids awarded for armory project,
"It's not in my hands," he said. "I'm OK with it. I'm alive and I'm with my family."
His parents, Chet and Kathy Hockenberry of Reno, have been by his side since he arrived back in the United States in late June.
"I don't think I could've done it without them," Kyle Hockenberry said.
Other family members have spent a great deal of time with him as well, including his uncle, Jim Hall, who recently returned with his wife and children from celebrating Christmas in Texas with Hockenberry and his parents and brother.
"He's back," Hall said. "It's a miracle. It's a blessing. He's really farther along than they thought he'd be."
National and international attention
Hockenberry has also been on the receiving end of gifts, prayers and support from his home community, as well as people he's never met.
"I've been getting cards from all over the states, even from Europe," he said.
A Facebook group called "Praying for Kyle Hockenberry" now has more than 3,000 members.
The group expanded as Hockenberry's story received more attention after the publication of a photograph by the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes. It shows medics working on Hockenberry in the wake of the explosion. His shirt is off and his tattoo reading "For those I love, I will sacrifice" is clearly visible. The picture and Hockenberry's story have been shared on a variety of blogs and websites.
Hockenberry said he was surprised by the attention the tattoo has received.
"I had no idea when I got it that it would be that big a deal," he said.
One of his concerns when selecting the tattoo was that he pick something that wasn't "stupid or un-meaningful." Hockenberry said the message does sum up one of the reasons he enlisted - to protect his family, as well as his country.
Hockenberry said he doesn't remember anything about the explosion or a lot of time after it.
"My latest memory was probably a couple days before," he said. "I remember getting off a helicopter at night. And then from there until the middle of August, I don't remember anything."
Hockenberry said his rehabilitation will continue for a year to a year-and-a-half, but he expects to visit the area sometime in the next few months. At first, he said, he'll just want to have some time to himself and with his family.
"After a couple days, I would love to talk to all those people there that have been supporting me all this time," he said.
A new home
When Hockenberry does come home for good, it will be to a new house specially designed for him through "Building for America's Bravest," a program sponsored by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation.
Sinise, the star of "CSI: New York" and perhaps best known for his role as a soldier who lost both legs in Vietnam in the film "Forrest Gump," personally contacted Hockenberry after learning about his situation from a friend.
"He sounded very eager and interested and I think he was probably a little shocked to get a call like that," Sinise said in an interview with The Marietta Times.
Hockenberry said he enjoyed speaking with Sinise, who has been very active in supporting the military, especially in the years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"He's just like a normal person. He doesn't act like he's a famous person," Hockenberry said.
A pair of houses for quadruple amputees have already been built through the program and Hockenberry is one of nine soldiers for which Sinise's foundation and Tunnel to Towers are working on houses.
The effort will begin with a concert by Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band, named for his "Forrest Gump" character, that will be held in Washington County in the fall of 2012.
"It's a rallying point really," Sinise said. "We use those concert dates as an awareness-building and fundraising effort."
Tunnel to Towers brings together local groups to assist and handles the fundraising and logistics after the concert, Sinise said.
Sinise, who has been on more than 40 USO tours, including many with the band, said the experience of his own family members who served in Vietnam is one motivation for his work with the military.
"I think we learned some valuable lessons from Vietnam ... when this country basically turned its back on the veterans returning from war," he said. "One of my missions is to try to do everything I can to try to make sure that our returning warriors today don't have to go through that."
Making sure other attacks like the ones on Sept. 11 doesn't happen is also a concern, he said.
"(That) means you have to take care of those who have volunteered to serve our country," Sinise said. "(You have to) make sure that they know what they've gone through and what they've given is appreciated and is not forgotten."
A new need
Of even more concern to Hockenberry than the house being built for him is his parents' housing situation. Their trailer wasn't in the best of shape before they went to Texas to be with him and it has fallen into such a state of disrepair in their absence it is unlivable, he said.
Hockenberry appreciates the concern shown by people for him and the donations. Now, he said, people who want to help him "can help me get my parents a better home."
"It's the biggest concern he has right now," Jim Hall said.
Hall and his wife Stacy have spoken to a family friend about organizing an effort to build the Hockenberrys a new house - a simple one, "nothing fancy" - and there will be more information available about how people can help.