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TH Marine loses leg after Humvee blasted by improvised explosive device

TERRE HAUTE — Mike Watson struggled to hold back tears as he spoke Wednesday via telephone about his son, Lance Cpl. Chad M. Watson.

http://www.tribstar.com/news/local_story_340220604.html

December 06, 2006
By Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

Nearly 60 minutes earlier, the 23-year-old Marine from Mt. Zion, Ill., began a third surgery, this time in the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

It’s a journey that began on Nov. 29, when Chad was trapped in a burning Humvee that had been blasted by an improvised explosive device. Chad and the other Marines in the Humvee were on patrol in the Al-Anbar Province of Fallujah, Iraq. He was deployed to Iraq in September out of Terre Haute’s Marine Corps facility on Fruitridge Avenue.

“He knew his right leg was gone immediately. He could see the bone,” his father said. Three other Marines in the vehicle were injured, some suffering broken bones.

A soldier behind Watson helped pull him from the burning Humvee. But, in doing so, Watson’s left ankle and heel were severely damaged.

“Chad never lost consciousness. They said Chad was still instructing other corpsmen on what to do,” his father said. “They had to get him out fast as the 50-caliber rounds were, as they said, cooking off. The heat of the vehicle burning was causing the shells to explode.”

Chad is the son of Mike and Gina Watson of Mt Zion, Ill. His grandparents are Joyce and Jim Watson and Dane and Martha Cox, all of Montezuma. His uncle, Randy Watson, lives in West Terre Haute.

“It has been horrible, but I got a super family,” said Joyce Watson, whose son, Mike, is the father of Chad Watson. “I woke up at 4 a.m. sobbing, but we are dealing with it. We know he is going to make it. We are so happy he is alive.”

Chad is a 2001 graduate of Mt. Zion High School and was quarterback of the football team. He joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 2004 while attending Indiana University on a partial wrestling scholarship.

Mike Watson said his son showed him his wounds for the first time on Wednesday in Bethesda.

“When everybody was gone [from the room], he said, ‘Dad, I got to show this, are you ready for it? This is not going to stop me from doing anything. As, soon as they get me out of here and to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.], we’re going to put [high-tech prosthetics] through the paces.’”

Chad “is coping very well. Mentally and physically, I can’t even imagine where this is coming from, it’s beyond me. I know I couldn’t do it … ,” his father said, pausing and wiping his tears. “But if he can do this, I can do this, too.”

Chad also suffered shrapnel wounds to his face, including his eyelid, and to his right arm.

“His eye is very swollen. They told us his eye will be fine, no vision damage. So he is very, very lucky there,” his father said. “He is so proud of his USMC tattoo on his arm. He has shrapnel above it, below it and on one end. He was joking that at least it didn’t get his tattoo,” his father said.

Mike Watson learned that his son had been injured last week when contacted by 1st Sgt. Troy Euclide.

Euclide said he used experience from an Oct. 15 incident to talk to the Watson family. In October, Sgt. Brock Babb of Evansville and Lance Cpl. Josuha Hines of Casey, Ill., both based out of Terre Haute, were killed. In the same vehicle Lance Cpl. Josh Bleill, from Greenfield, lost both of his legs.

“I had to go smoke some cigarettes and drink some coffee when I got the news about Chad and I am not a smoker,” Euclide said. “It is not a nice thing to do when you have to inform people that their loved one is very seriously injured,” Euclide said.

“I just let the Watson family know what to expect based on what happened to Josh Bleill,” Euclide said. “Chad is a stud and he will be back, probably, running a perfect score of 300 on the physical fitness test, running three miles in 18 minutes or less.”

Mike Watson said Euclide helped him personally deal with his son’s injuries.

“First Sgt. Troy Euclide has nothing but praise for me and my family. The professionalism and courtesy that he … [pausing to gather himself] … showed me was fantastic,” Mike Watson said.

In addition to his parents and a sister, Chad’s girlfriend, Jillian Kinsella, a graduate student at Eastern Illinois University, visited him at Bethesda on Wednesday.

“His girlfriend is a beautiful, athletic girl. She is majoring in cardiac rehab. They are both physical fitness nuts. They are a beautiful couple,” his father said.

“They plan to dance together at some weddings of Jillian’s friends,” Mike Watson said, “and he still wants to run a marathon.”

Chad attended Indiana University for three years and is finishing up his fourth year of college at Eastern Illinois University. He is a semester shy of finishing, studying psychology with an emphasis on criminology, his father said.

The Watson family has a blog at www.chadmwatson.blogspot.com. to allow people to e-mail the family and track Chad Watson’s progress.

Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.