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Home for holidays special blessing for wounded warriors

Dennis Karen KnutsNewark are touched by one several welcome home speeches for their sUS Army PFC Nathan Knutswho returned home

Dennis and Karen Knutson, of Newark, are touched by one of several welcome home speeches for their son, US Army PFC Nathan Knutson, who returned home on Saturday, June 30, 2012, to a hero's welcome. Knutson was seriously injured while deployed in Afghanistan. | Michele du Vair~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 1, 2013 11:39AM

Home for the holidays has taken on special meaning for two local families this year.

It means their sons, Army Pvt. First Class Nathan Knutson from Newark and Marine LCpl. Kyle Moser from Oswego — both Purple Heart recipients and still recuperating from serious wounds they received in Afghanistan — will be gathered around the trees in their Fox Valley homes to celebrate with loved ones.

And no matter how “strained and drained” this past year has been, says Moser’s mother Pat Zander, this holiday homecoming is “truly a gift.”

Kyle Moser was 19 when he lost both his legs in an IED explosion in November of 2011. Since then, he has been through a series of highs and lows in 2012 as he’s undergone dozens of surgeries and fought off countless infections while at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda, Md., in order to strap on the “shorties” he’s now wearing. These temporary prosthetics will help him build balance and endurance so he can eventually be fitted for new permanent legs that will enable him to get on with his life.

Just recently, Zander said, Kyle has been able to walk a mile in those shorties with the help of a cane. And she’s truly looking forward to watching her son move around her kitchen even better than he did when he was home this summer for a brief visit. There are still issues to resolve, including another surgery in January to mend the second ear drum that was ruptured from the explosion, and there’s still no timetable on when he’ll be able to come home for good, she said. But progress is being made.

Hitting that one-year anniversary — Nov. 11 — was difficult, Zander said. It brought back a wave of memories from the moment she received the phone call notifying her Kyle had been so close to death after an explosion while on patrol. “There were lots of milestones and setbacks” this year, she said, but through it all, Kyle — along with his wife Alex — has maintained his spirit and resolve.

“We are so proud of him,” she said.

Those are the same words Dennis Knutson used when talking about his son, Nathan Knutson, who is rehabbing at Sam Houston Army Base in Fort Bliss, Texas, after spending time at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. All this wounded warrior wants for Christmas, his dad said, is a mended left ankle. That’s the one that was shattered on March 17 when he and two other soldiers drove over an IED in Afghanistan.

Like Moser, the 2010 Newark High School grad has been through dozens of surgeries since then. (His jaw was broken and spleen was ruptured.) He’s still in considerable pain and hoping another surgery scheduled for January will be the key to some relief.

The doctor will literally nail together the ankle — which already contains 14 screws and a plate — with a 12-inch rod that will go through the bottom of his foot and up his leg to secure the ankle.

It sounds awful but his dad knows Nathan is among the lucky ones.

There will be no holiday homecoming for Mary and Bob Patterson of North Aurora this Christmas. SPC Chris Patterson was killed by an IED bomb in January along with three other members of his Indiana National Guard Unit.

Nor will there be a celebration for the Elgin family of 21-year-old Marine Cpl. Alex Martinez, who was killed in Afghanistan in April.

Dennis Knutson and wife Karen, along with Pat Zander and Kyle’s father Robert Moser, are well aware of the ultimate sacrifices of these young soldiers and Marines. So many of these men, some who sustained injuries long before her son, are not even out of the Bethesda hospital yet, much less ready to come home for the holidays.

“We must,” Zander reminded us, “keep them all in our prayers.”

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