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Local Marine wounded

Lance Cpl. Jonathan Breehl hit with shrapnel

Lance Cpl. Jonathan Breehl hit with shrapnel

September 15, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN - The war in Iraq came home to a Hagerstown family Thursday with word that 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Jonathan Breehl had been wounded in Habbaniyah, Iraq.

Breehl's mother and stepfather, Melissa and Jeremy Custer, said the family had been told the Marine suffered injuries to his right wrist and left thigh when shrapnel from a remote-controlled improvised explosive device struck him Thursday morning.

His mother said she'd been told he was in serious condition and that he was to be transferred to a military hospital in Baghdad. Habbaniyah is west of Baghdad, between Fallujah and Ramadi.

Attempts to confirm the injuries through Camp Lejeune, N.C., the Pentagon, and the offices of U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski were unsuccessful Thursday.

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From the Pentagon, Staff Sgt. Christina Delai told The Herald-Mail that Breehl had not yet appeared in the Marine Corps' database of wounded soldiers, but she said "that's not unusual; sometimes it takes a few days" for the information to reach the database.

Breehl is a 2005 graduate of North Hagerstown High School, where he was a standout wrestler and played football and baseball. Shortly after he completed boot camp last year, Breehl and his mother were featured in a Herald-Mail story about parents watching their first children leave home.

His grandfather, William R. Nutter, took the call from officials at Camp Lejeune on Thursday morning.

"The first thing I asked was, 'Is he alive?'" Nutter said.

He called Breehl's mother at her job at Smithsburg Medical Center with the news.

"I about died right then," she said.

Still wearing her work smock, Custer quivered and fought back tears as she described Breehl's injuries, appearing to reassure herself as she affirmed that "he's gonna live."

Then, she apologized for appearing upset.

"I feel numb. Excuse me," she said.

Family members gathered at the Custers' home on Linganore Avenue on Thursday to console each other and await further word on their Marine.

His uncle, William C. Nutter, and aunt, Matty Chaney, talked almost nonstop Thursday about Jonathan Breehl and his achievements.

"He was part of the 'New Breed' football team at North; remember that?" said his uncle. "He loves his family; he loves his brothers. He's real loyal to his friends. He was always a good leader."

Chaney said Breehl started training even before he joined the Marines. She knows that because at 7:30 on the morning after his high school graduation, she found him and a friend in her pool. They'd been running, building their stamina, and they "got hot" and decided to take a dip, she said.

"He probably had an angel watching over him" Thursday morning, Chaney said.

Her daughter's fourth-grade class at Maugansville Elementary had written a packet of letters to Breehl that she was preparing to send him.

"One said, 'Thank you for protecting our country,'" she said. Another wrote, "You are very brave."

"Everything he did, he excelled at," Jeremy Custer said.

Breehl plans to go to college after his four-year stint in the Marines to study engineering, his stepfather said.

Breehl has overcome injuries before. He was hospitalized with a concussion during boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., Melissa Custer told The Herald-Mail last year. And he qualified for the state wrestling tournament during his senior year at North High despite wrestling with an injured ankle.

North High wrestling coach Greg Slick said that Breehl was a tough, quick wrestler and a "coach's dream." Breehl is patriotic, and he has a sense of duty, Slick said.

"He was a hardworking kid. He was one of the kids that you love to have on your team because if I said, 'Jonathan, I need you to run through that wall,' he was one of those kids that would try to run through that wall," Slick said.

Breehl was deployed to Iraq in July, Melissa Custer said, and was scheduled to leave Iraq next March.

Custer said her son, the oldest of three boys, was determined to join the Marines as soon as he reached the age of 18.

"I said, 'Why?' and he said, 'Mom, if everybody felt that way, who's gonna defend our country?'"

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