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The ultimate gift: Injured veteran returns home

Interview and photo by Tedd Lupella

Written by: Christine Lupella

Jeremy’s arrival was a long time coming, but the timing was just right. After spending nearly a year in out-of-state hospitals and rehabilitation centers, Lance Corporal (LCPL) Jeremy Stengel, 22, came home to Waterford, Wis. on Dec. 8 – an early Christmas gift for the family and friends who visited him, stayed with him, and prayed for him.

Stengel, a Marine from the 2/3 Weapons Co. Map 1 Unit 44065, was on a mine sweep mission on Jan. 31 with several other soldiers in the Al Anbar Province in Iraq near Haditha, when their Humvee hit a roadside bomb. Two other soldiers who were in the Humvee died in the attack and Stengel was critically injured. The driver was also injured.

Stengel was flown to a hospital in Iraq, then to a hospital in Germany on Feb. 2. His family received word that he was on a ventilator and sedated. His injuries ranged from internal lacerations to a fractured lumbar – lower spine, extensive fractures to both legs, ankles and feet, and multiple wounds on his legs and heel.

Two days later, he was flown to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington D.C., where he would remain for a number of months undergoing multiple surgeries, experiencing fevers and infections, and slowly rehabilitating his body.

His parents, Greg and Gayle, took turns staying with him in the hospital, encouraging him on the bad days and celebrating the good. Other family members filled in at home in Waterford, caring for Jeremy’s younger siblings, Ethan and Jackie, or updating the Web site that kept friends, family and community members informed about Jeremy’s progress.

Ethan, 10, is especially delighted that Jeremy is home. The best part, he said, is “hanging out” with his older brother.

Their dad takes Jeremy to an area health club to work out.

“Things are coming along slowly,” Greg said of Jeremy’s progress.

Jeremy is still technically an active duty Marine, and still feels a special bond with his military family.

His platoon is back in the states for now, but will be de-ploying to Iraq again in January for another seven to nine months.

“I miss going out in the field with the guys, but it’s a nice break,” Jeremy said about being home in Waterford.

Both his family and his military family are Jeremy’s inspirations. Jeremy first became interested in serving when he saw the HBO Television series, “Band of Brothers.”

“Band of Brothers” is the story of Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airborne Di-vision and their mission in World War II.

Jeremy chose the Marines because “I had uncles and other family members that were in the Air Force and the Army, and I thought, why not the Marines? Then all the branches will be covered.”

Jeremy is not yet sure of his future plans. He knows he will be returning to Washington D.C. in early January for more therapy. He walks with a cane right now and hopes to continue building his strength.

“I’ll see how therapy goes,” he said. “The main thing is, I want to be able to do what I used to do.”

That includes golf and pickup games of basketball – and eventually, college.

Jeremy said people can help other soldiers by sending cards and letters and letting the soldiers know they are not forgotten. He received mail almost every day from his family, and he appreciated that, he said.

Stengel honored with Meritorious Service Medal

American Legion Post 20 of Waterford, Wis. presented Lance Corporal Jeremy Stengel of Waterford with a special award Dec. 17.

A welcome home and award ceremony was held in Stengel’s honor at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and school. A standing-room only crowd filled the school gymnasium to honor Stengel, who was injured while serving Iraq in January this year.

Legion Commander Jon McCourt presented Stengel with a Meritorious Service Medal and certificate. McCourt said this is the only American Legion award for active service members.

Stengel accepted the award and quietly said, “Everyone who prayed for me and my family, thank you for your support.”


I'm a writer, editor, photographer and artist living in rural Southeastern Wisconsin. I grew up in Chicago, made my way to the deep woods of Northern Minnesota and then landed here among the cornfields and cows. It's quite simply my happy place.

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