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thedrifter
04-08-06, 08:07 AM
When Kade comes marching home
By Jim Sheeler, Rocky Mountain News
April 8, 2006

WASHINGTON - Among the whiffs of antiseptic and sweat inside Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Kade Hinkhouse can still smell the crops.

"My dad's a farmer, and I grew up helping him," said Hinkhouse, who spent his life on the eastern plains of Colorado - a home that he hasn't seen since he left for Iraq.

For the past several months, the thought of the fields where he grew up has kept him going as he looks at the institutional walls, but he says he's not ready to return to the plains - not if he has to come back to the hospital.

"There are too many times in my life that I've visited and had to leave again. And it's too hard," he said. "When I go home, I want it to be for good."

Inside the hospital, the 20- year-old Marine lance corporal removed a padded green helmet, revealing a softball-size depression on the side of his head.

"I have no skull here," he said, pressing his finger into the soft skin on the side of his scalp. "This is just my brain."

He then looked down.

"That's why I have to wear this ridiculous-looking helmet, which I hate," he said, then smirked, "We're thinking about putting a John Deere patch on it."

Along with the depressed skull fracture, Hinkhouse also lost a leg after a homemade bomb exploded near his vehicle last October. The blast didn't take his sense of humor.

"You have to think about it in the right way," he said. "I never have to worry about blisters on my foot. When I buy socks, I'm always buying in bulk. Also, no ingrown toenails!"

Still, he says, many days are filled with frustration - especially when trying to bounce back from the brain injury.

"It took me a week to learn how to make my hand into a fist," he said. "It comes back, but not fast. It's easier to learn to walk with a prosthetic leg than to make muscle memory come back. They say I'm doing great, but to me, it's slow."

At the end of this month, doctors will insert a plastic plate into Hinkhouse's head to replace the missing skull - a surgery he hopes will be his last.

Whenever he finally makes it home, the town of Burlington will be ready for him.

Trees are wrapped with yellow ribbons. The high school band has already learned the Marine Corps hymn. The Old Town Museum is planning a display in his honor.

Last year, as his family watched over Kade in the hospital, the community banded together to harvest the Hinkhouse's corn on the family's 1,400-acre farm.

The staff at Burlington Middle School - where Kade's mother, Susan, is a cook - has donated their sick days so she can stay with Kade in Washington, D.C.

That same sense of pitching in, the young Marine said, is exactly what led him to the military.

"I thought it would be an honorable thing to go in and fight for your friends," he said. "If my friends weren't going to sign up, I wanted to sign up, to keep all of us safer."

One of his classmates from Burlington High School served in the Marines in Afghanistan. Though Hinkhouse had hoped to stay in the military, he says that if he can't serve at the front of the action, he can't stay in the Corps.

Still, he says, he'll never leave Iraq behind.

"I want to be a history teacher. You read about wars and battles in books, but people don't know what it's like. It's not just a story or a movie," he said.

"I know what it's like."

Last week, Hinkhouse traveled to California, where he welcomed home his unit from Iraq. His next trip, he hopes, will be back to Burlington.

But only on his terms.

"When I leave Walter Reed, I will walk onto the plane, walk off the plane and walk to my family," he said.

"And I will walk home."

Contact recovering soldiers Write to:

(NAME) or "Any Soldier" c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center

6900 Georgia Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. 20307

• The hospital is deluged with mail for recovering troops, so it may take a while before they receive correspondence.

Online

• Visit Kade Hinkhouse's site at www.caring bridge.org/visit/ kadehinkhouse

Ellie