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Smithsburg Marine recovering

February 12, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

SMITHSBURG - U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Dane Fonte was injured Wednesday afternoon in Iraq after a grenade exploded during an engagement in Anbar province, his parents said Saturday.

The incident happened while Fonte was on a rooftop during several hours of off-and-on fighting with insurgents, but he managed to avoid the brunt of the explosion, Jeff and Carlann Christopher said.

Fonte, 21, is being treated at Bethesda (Md.) Naval Hospital for bone fractures around his right eye, which also received some retina damage, according to his parents.

"That's the major concern," said Fonte's mother, who added that wounds to her son's leg and arm were sutured on Saturday.

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Though his eye now is patched, Carlann Christopher said her son could detect some amount of light since he was flown from Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, a suspected staging area for insurgents fighting U.S. troops.

"There's 10 fingers, there's 10 toes, his personality is there," she said in an interview from the hospital.

She said Fonte's superior officer, Cpl. Joshua Pitcher, was not as fortunate, and now is "fighting for his life" after receiving more severe head trauma from the same device.

Jeff Christopher received a cell phone call about his son being taken to the hospital Thursday afternoon while he was at Lowe's in Hagerstown.

He wasn't told the extent of his son's injuries, but left the store and immediately drove to Twigg Cycles in Hagerstown, where his wife works, and went to the hospital.

"We didn't talk a whole lot," Carlann Christopher said.

Her husband, a Marine Corps veteran, has traveled to Bethesda several times in the last few months with other members of the Hagerstown chapter of the U.S. Military Veterans Motorcycle Club. They also have traveled to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to support other military personnel injured in the line of duty.

While with their son, Carlann Christopher said Fonte's sergeant, who lost his legs in October, was one of a number of people who have stopped by to visit him.

"He came in to see him walking on prosthetics," she said.

"This place is a living miracle," she said. "The outpouring of love ... There's nothing we could ever want for."

"The nurses and doctors at Bethesda Naval have been the best," her husband added.

Despite attempts by his father to deter him from joining the Marine Corps, Fonte enlisted immediately after graduating from Smithsburg High School in 2003, his mother said.

He was deployed to Iraq in September, and was scheduled to complete his term of service with the 1st Battalion of the 6th Marine Regiment in August.

"He's just worried about his guys still over there," Jeff Christopher said. "That's all he's concerned about."

Fonte's younger sister, Casey, 18, said her brother was "out of it" when she first saw him Thursday.

On Friday, he was laughing and telling jokes, she said Saturday.

"He still has all of his body parts, thank God," she said while cleaning her brother's room at their parents' house off Vodys Court in Smithsburg, where his Marine Corps unit's colors fluttered in a chilly wind.

A standout football player and wrestler in his years in high school, Fonte's mother anticipates a hearty welcome home from the community for her son, who she said has an infectious smile and personal drive to be the best.

"I think if Dane ran for mayor of Smithsburg, I'd think he'd win hands down," she said.

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