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SOLDIER CRITICALLY WOUNDED IN IRAQ RETURNS
FAMILY OVERJOYED TO HAVE HIM HOME

Army Spc. John Pirinelli doesn't believe for one minute that he's a hero.

And his family is just happy to have him home from Iraq in one piece.

Pirinelli, 23, who was critically injured July 28 in an ambush near Tikrit, is back in his native Bergholz.

He arrived Thursday night and spent Friday surrounded by family and friends in the house where he grew up. The family carport was filled with balloons and welcome home signs.

Friday night, he got a taste of just how many folks from his hometown have been pulling for him. More than 700 people bought tickets for a benefit to help cover his medical costs.

His older brother Philip wrote a song about him, which he sang as a surprise at the event.

"I appreciate it," said Pirinelli, who spent part of the summer in a coma. "But it's like so many people are out there getting hurt that don't get this.

"Why do I deserve this more than anybody else?"

As of Friday, at least 1,127 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq War in March 2003 and more than 8,200 have been wounded, according to the Associated Press.

Pirinelli was shot in the back while on patrol. He was brought to a hospital in Germany soon after, where he fell into a coma for more than a week.

His mother, Rise Pirinelli, flew to Germany with other family members, to be by his side.

"I just kept saying, 'I know my heart's gonna stop,' " she recalled. "I just thought I would die."

Family members received a grim assessment of Pirinelli's injuries: His colon was severely damaged. He lost a kidney. Nerves in his right hand were damaged.

Doctors thought it would take at least a year to recover -- if he recovered at all.

Fifty-five pounds lighter, Pirinelli was recently released from Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he was transferred in August.

His family calls him their miracle, and believes prayer and a strong will brought him back.

"He is a very determined soul," said his mother, who is overjoyed at how far he has come.

Pirinelli is plainspoken and honest, but doesn't necessarily like to talk about his seven months in Iraq.

"It's day to day," said Pirinelli, who was awarded the Purple Heart. "Sometimes I feel like answering questions, sometimes not," he said. "Sometimes I don't mind spitting it out. I feel like if I talk about it, people will get the wrong idea."

He also said he doesn't want people to think he is greedy for attention.

Now, he just wants to get on with his life. He got married in January and he and his wife just had their first child about two weeks ago.

He also has mixed feelings about the war, and said he has no desire to re-enlist in the Army when his hitch is up.

Currently, he is taking blood thinners and has suffered radial nerve damage to his right hand, and faces one more operation on his colon.

"It's a miracle that he even survived," said Rise Pirinelli, as her son kissed her on the cheek before Friday's benefit. "Meanwhile, this is a boy that has fought a war, he's been in the military, he's got a wife and a baby. . . ."

"And I'm going out tonight," her son interrupted.

They laughed together.

e-mail: gnorheim@buffnews.com

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