400 jam party to welcome home wounded soldier
With the collar of his black T-shirt, Pfc. Daniel Tingle wiped away tears Saturday as he struggled to honor his fellow soldiers and thank the hundreds of people who showed up at a reception to welcome the wounded soldier home.
Former teachers and coaches, high school friends, active, retired and former military and hundreds of strangers packed the banquet room at Sharkey’s Casino in Gardnerville to greet the 21-year-old Douglas High School graduate who was wounded by a mortar round in Iraq in January.
“Every day I think about my unit and pray one day that I will be back at their side,” Tingle said.
“People call me a hero. I think I got the easy way out. I’m not the hero. It’s my brothers who are still over there and my fallen brothers,” he said before calling for a moment of silence in their honor.
“Every day I question God and wonder why it was me and not them who got to come home,” he said.
Tingle, a 2004 Douglas High School graduate, was injured early in January in Baghdad. He has undergone nearly 20 surgeries in an effort to save his left foot.
Home for a month on convalescent leave, Tingle is to return to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas in late March to continue therapy and treatment.
Tingle’s grandfather Bill Lepore of Minden, a World War II Navy veteran, recalled a telephone conversation he had with the young soldier after he was wounded and sent to Texas for recovery.
“He said, ‘I feel guilty. The job’s not done. I left my buddies back there,'” Lepore said.
“I told him, ‘Daniel, you don’t have a thing in the world to feel guilty about. You did your job,'” Lepore said to a rousing ovation.
Tingle, dressed in jeans and an Army sweatshirt with his 20-year-old wife Megan at his side, arrived to applause as he made his way on crutches through the banquet room.
He greeted every guest who lined up to meet him with a handshake, or salute.
Retired Army Col. Jack Osborn, 80, wore his uniform to the reception.
“I wear it on Flag Day, Veterans Day, the Fourth of July, and occasions like this,” said the Minden resident, a retired physician.
Osborn served in the Navy in World War II and as a medical officer in the Korean War.
“I’m here to honor this young man who got hurt,” Osborn said. “I was lucky enough to get through two wars without an injury.”
Nancy Haynie of Carson City and Anita Mahoney of Gardnerville presented Tingle with a quilt.
“We just made it for him after we read about his injury,” Haynie said.
The Sierra Nevada Blue Star Mothers, who helped organize and decorate for the event, presented Tingle’s mother Tina Luce with a banner with her son’s name.
Tingle also was presented with a proclamation from Gov. Jim Gibbons declaring April 13 Pfc. Daniel Tingle day.
The outpouring of support was deeply felt by Tingle’s uncle Bill Lepore who served three tours of duty in Vietnam and remembers his homecoming almost 40 years later.
“There were no crowds or people clapping, no parties or patriotism,” he said. “My faith is restored. Today, people are behind the soldiers whether they support the war or not.”
That sentiment was echoed by “Showdown,” the Reno road captain of the Vietnam Vets and Legacy Vets Motorcycle Club who attended the reception with about a dozen members.
The 28-year career Army veteran said the club, with members in every state and six countries, tries to attend every function that honors the military.
“We’re supporting veterans whether they come home killed in action or wounded,” he said. “This soldier (Tingle) is a great guy, a good kid, a good brother.”
Showdown said the members looked forward to attending Tingle’s reception.
“We’ve done a lot of funerals. It was nice to have a brighter spot like this,” he said.
Dave Sergott and Mike Ivie coached Tingle in Little League baseball and Pop Warner football.
“It was great to hear him say, ‘Nice to see you, coach,’ when he came in,” Sergott said. “I can still see Daniel, but that’s no kid anymore.”
“He was a character, he was unique,” Ivie said. “And he was a great cornerback.”
As the afternoon wound down, Luce said she was overwhelmed by Sharkey’s generosity and the support of the people who came to honor her son.
“Honest to God, I just feel blessed,” she said. “This feeling is overwhelming. I have to 110 percent thank Sharkey’s and the vets who showed up. I really want them to know that.”
Tingle had special thanks for his brothers David and Jason and his sister Melanie.
He cried again when he thanked his wife.
“She’s been at my side through all of this,” he said. “She was there when she got that call that she never wanted to get and she’s never let up.”