Injury didn’t make soldier cry … but valentines from students did |

Injury didn’t make soldier cry … but valentines from students did

Sheila Gardner
Shannon Litz / The Record-Courier / Pfc. Daniel Tingle signs an autograph for third-grader Michelle Hawkins in Maggie Kersten's class at Jacks Valley Elementary School on Tuesday.

Pfc. Daniel Tingle received a hero’s welcome Tuesday from students at Jacks Valley Elementary School who have been following the soldier’s story since he was wounded in January in Iraq.

When Maggie Kersten’s third graders returned from recess, Tingle, 21, and his wife, Megan, were waiting in the classroom to greet the children who sent handmade valentines to the soldier as he recuperated from a foot injury at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have special guests here today,” Kersten said.

But the students already had guessed who the young man was, wearing fatigues and sitting in a chair with his left foot wrapped.

“I want to thank all of you for the letters,” Tingle said after the chatter died down. “It was really nice.”

He told the class that he didn’t cry when he was wounded, but he shed tears over the valentines.

“I gave some to another buddy of mine in the hospital. He went into tears as he read them and I did, too. It was really emotional. Your cards were truly heartfelt and it was really good for our recovery,” Tingle said.

Tingle told the students he had undergone 18 surgeries and would be returning March 27 to Texas for more therapy.

“The foot’s going to stay,” he predicted.

Tingle passed around his Purple Heart to a chorus of “whoa” and his dog tags.

Cooper Robertson, 8, told Tingle his surprise visit almost moved him to tears.

“When I walked in here and I saw you, I was going to cry,” he said. “It was just crazy.”

The third graders who have been reading about the soldier in The Record-Courier were ready with dozens of questions.

Was it scary?

“Being attacked I was scared, but you kind of got used to the fact of being there. Every day we just got hit.”

Was it noisy and could you sleep?

“Yes, it was noisy. We did get to sleep at night. The longest mission I was out on was 48 hours.”

How are your bones?

“All the bones I did have in my foot are gone but one and it’s doing good.”

Are you going back to Iraq?

“It all depends on my healing and what my government wants me to do.”

What made you go to war?

“What inspired me to join up was I wanted to make a difference for myself. I used to be a wildland firefighter, but I wanted to do more. In high school, I was inspired by the twin towers.”

What’s the worst thing about your injury?

“The loss of agility of my foot. I probably won’t be able to climb anymore or run too far. But I am very happy to be here.”

Who shot you?

“The bad guys.”

Why do all the mean soldiers want to kill Americans?

“They don’t want us there. People in other countries don’t agree with it when we come in to solve problems they want to solve themselves.”

A shadow crossed Tingle’s face when the children asked him about casualties.

He mentioned two friends from his unit, but teacher Heather McCain told the children he would prefer not to talk about it.

“When you talk about lost friends, it hurts a lot,” he said.

Who’s winning the war?

“I’d like to say we are.”

After the students ran out of questions, they lined up for autographs.

“Let’s say I really wanted to see him,” said Michelle Hawkins, 9. “He’s really nice and he’s cool Army.”

Spencer Flanders, 8, said he was relieved to see that Tingle was recovering.

“I think it was wonderful. I always wanted to see him in my entire life. I was glad to see him and his Purple Heart,” Spencer said.

Tingle, who attended Jacks Valley Elementary School, surprised teacher Stacey Chambers with a visit.

Chambers, now a sixth grade teacher, taught Tingle in second grade.

“Private First Class Tingle!” she said as he entered the classroom.

“Students stand out in your mind and Daniel was one of them,” she told her class. “We are so proud of you.”

The sixth graders wanted to know if he was scared when he got hit.

“I was scared, but if you start losing your train of thought out there, worse things will happen,” he said. “When you get back to your unit, then you can have tears and thank God you made it back.”

Megan Tingle, 20, who acts as her husband’s chauffeur and shoulder to lean on, said she was overwhelmed at times by the events of the past two months.

“There’s a lot to take in and I wouldn’t choose this, but I really am a lot stronger than people think I am,” she said.

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