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thedrifter
05-12-08, 09:05 AM
Marine's explosive war story
Benefit planned for wounded Iraqi war veteran
By ADAM McNAUGHTONand DAVID KIDWELL
Pocono Record Writers
May 12, 2008 6:00 AM

MARSHALLS CREEK — On a rainy Friday morning Sgt. Jacob "Jake" Knospler, 26, sits in his duplex near Marshalls Creek, telling war stories.

His tales of death and danger during his two tours of duty in Iraq are chilling. His story about the early morning of Nov. 12, 2004, that left his face disfigured and his voice unrecognizable is downright horrifying.

Jake, then a corporal, was leading a group of young Marines into the middle of the fight for control of Fallujah. Around 2 a.m., he burst into a building during brutal house-to-house fighting and an enemy grenade exploded near his face, critically wounding him.

His injuries were massive. Shrapnel from the grenade ripped a hole through his cheek and upper jaw. The right side of his face gapped open and his right eye was nearly lost. The right side of his brain was seriously injured. Many of the bones in his face were pulverized along with all but three of his upper teeth. He was partially blind and deaf. The rest of his body was pierced and ripped apart by dozens of pieces of shrapnel.

Only two months before being wounded he learned that his wife, Sheena, had given birth to their daughter, Jahna, 6,000 miles away at Pocono Medical Center. Just four days after being wounded, he was reunited with his young family at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

"Those military doctors are good at keeping people alive and that's what they did for me," he said.

Twenty-two surgeries later, remarkably, Jake misses the action in Iraq. "If it wasn't for this," he says pointing to his face, "I'd still be there," he said.

But what he really misses is his fellow Marines still serving in Iraq. "You're not there for you. You don't do all the training for you. You don't keep your weapon with you at every minute for you — you do it for the guy next to you," he said.

The Knospler family has had to endure hardships few can imagine. Jake makes regular trips back to Bethesda and to Good Shepherd Hospital in Allentown for surgeries, treatment and rehabilitation. He still faces numerous plastic surgeries as Army doctors begin rebuilding the appearance of his face.

Knospler and Sheena got married only a few months before he left for Iraq on his second tour. His daughter, Jahna, now 3, was born while he scoured the dessert in Iraq looking for weapons stashes.

Now a group of volunteers who has spent the past three years raising money for returning U.S. soldiers is trying to get the word out to help the Knospler family (they are house hunting).

"The problem we've had this year is getting people to contribute to these soldiers," said Gary McCourt, the organizer of the group Friends of the First Battalion.

"I think with everything else going on in the news and in the country, the war and our soldiers have kind of been pushed to the back," he said.

Friends of the First Battalion was founded in 2005 to help the families of soldiers wounded or killed in Iraq. McCourt and his wife, Tami, used to live in Effort but now live near Hazleton. They began their "mission" after seeing a TV news broadcast describing a roadside bomb attack in Iraq.

Since then they have organized golf tournaments and fundraisers to help soldiers who return from Iraq.

On May 18 and 19 their group will host a golf tournament and auction at Hideaway Hills golf course in Kresgeville that will benefit the Knosplers. They'll split the money raised for the family of New York soldier Jose Morales, who lost his left leg when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee.

In 2006, Friends of the First Battalion raised $22,500 for the families of three soldiers who died in Iraq. In 2007 they raised more than $30,000 for two soldiers wounded during combat. This year, they have raised a fraction of that for the Knospler and Morales families.

"This year has been a struggle from the beginning," McCourt said. "I have no idea what we're going to end up with."

With financial hardships hitting many Americans, McCourt says it is important to still remember wounded U.S. soldiers.

Although spots in the golf tournament are already sold-out, the group is looking for other donations to raise money to help the families.

"There are many, many worthy charities out there," McCourt said. "I believe these young men and women have sacrificed to give us the lives we all have. It's our opportunity to help give them the lives they deserve."

If you want to help the Knospler and/or Morales families, you can write a check payable to "F.O.T.F.B." and mail it to Friends of the First Battalion, c/o First Liberty Bank & Trust, 142 Airport Road, Hazleton, PA 18202, or visit the group's Web site, www.fotfb.com.

Ellie