“Ty has a plastic skull now, and the old one is still stuck in his insides. He taps the side of his waist, where there is a slight bulge. The lump of bone will be removed one day but he is in no hurry to undergo another operation. There will be plenty of those ahead: he hopes the sight in his blind eye can be restored, though he doubts he is going to rebuild his nose – it involves too many awkward skin grafts.”

Sarah Baxter at Times Online tells the story of marine sergeant Ty Ziegel of downstate Metamora, whose truck met up with a suicide bomber while on patrol near Iraq’s Syrian border in December 2004. 

Ziegel had met his fiance, Renee Klein, years earlier, when he went to work as a mechanic at her father’s garage in their small town, population 2,700, near Peoria. She stuck with him through months of surgery that left almost everything unrecognizable except his deadpan wit. When the doctors removed the tracheostomy tube in his neck that had been feeding him while his lips were too burned, writes Baxter, “He said, ‘Renee, will you be my valentine?’ . . . His next words were: ‘Do you want to make out?’“

Photojournalist Nina Berman’s coverage of their wedding last fall is here. (The Sun-Times reviewed her earlier book Purple Hearts Back From Iraq.)

Baxter writes, “He did not join the marines to get thanks and he does not feel strongly about the war one way or the other. ‘I’m not political and I don’t complain.’ His younger brother is also in the marines and may be deployed in Iraq. Sometimes it bothers Ty, but they both signed up, so that’s that.”