He’s just a great guy

Sgt Peck homecoming News-Sun
Marine Sgt. John Peck is saluted as he arrives at a blood drive and benefit at the Antioch VFW on Monday. He lost both arms and legs to a bomb explosion while serving in Afghanistan. Photo provided by News-Sun.

By Diana Kuyper | The News-Sun | Newssun.suntimes.com | May 10, 2011

 

ANTIOCH — Marine Sgt. John Peck wheeled into the VFW on Monday morning in his motorized wheelchair and was inundated with attention from area residents and officials. They wanted to thank him for his service and the sacrifice he made when he lost four limbs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan almost a year ago.

 

Peck arrived in a motorcade escorted by police and fire vehicles and a Patriot Guard motorcycle contingent. More than 2,500 supporters, including hundreds of grade and high school students, lined the sidewalks on Main Street and waved American flags as he passed by in a van donated by the Semper Fi Fund.

With parents Zenio and Lisa Krutyholowa by his side and his Siberian husky puppy, Mischa, on his lap, he at times looked overwhelmed, wiping tears from his face on his dad’s shirtfront. But then he playfully flexed the muscles in his upper left arm after someone mentioned the hours he’s spent in physical therapy over the past year.

 

“My arrival home this week was different than I expected. It is nice that people genuinely care, but all of this is overwhelming,” said Peck, who since arriving home a week ago has had several television interviews, was center court at a Bulls game and was treated to a weekend in Chicago courtesy of the Semper Fi Fund. “It is amazing to me how much effort people have made on my behalf.”

 

He readily admits at times he is down and depressed, “but I can’t do anything about what happened. I can’t get in a time machine and go back and change anything. But I have found out I can overcome a lot and still have a smile on my face. My goal is to wake up every morning and just do what I have to do. It’s not like I have a choice.”

 

There is no point in having a negative attitude, he said. “It just makes the people around me uncomfortable. I don’t want to be one of those guys who nobody wants to be around.

 

“There is always someone worse off overcoming serious injuries day in and day out,” he said. “I can move around, get in and out of my wheelchair, swim and get in and out of bed. Those are all positives for me.”

 

Sisters Alysa and Katrina stayed close by their brother while proclamations in his honor were read by state, village and VFW representatives. Alysa’s best friend, Desiree Ester of Lindenhurst, said she just met John recently after talking to him many times on the phone during his recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he returns today. “He’s just a great guy, and unless you see him you would never know he had been so severely injured.”

 

Alysa, who had not seen her brother in recent months, said he is the same person she has always known, wrestling on the sofa with the family’s dogs and his new puppy.

 

“I am shocked at how far he’s advanced in his recovery, far better than even the doctors predicted,” she said. “He always achieves whatever goal he sets for himself.

 

“It’s nice to see people accept him as he is,” she said, as she watched the throng of well-wishers greet her brother, who chooses to forego wearing uncomfortable prosthetic limbs.

 

“He’s stepping up to share his story. He doesn’t particularly like the attention, but if no one else will do it, he will do what it takes to raise public awareness of the severity of injuries suffered by our troops.” Alysa said.

 

Peck, 25, a graduate of Antioch Community High School, was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines Weapons Company serving in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. He was critically wounded May 24 after he stepped on an improvised explosive device and lost both his legs and arms.

 

He was in a medically-induced coma for two and a half months, underwent multiple surgeries and recovered from a life-threatening infection. He received two Purple Hearts for those injuries and a traumatic head injury suffered during his first term of duty in Iraq.

 

Peck has had 28 surgeries, from amputation of a portion of an infected limb to repair of a perforated ear drum, and received 41 pints of red blood cells, 35 units of plasma and five units of platelets. His mother is a phlebotomist for LifeSource Blood Center, arranging for a replenishment blood drive in his honor at the VFW. Dozens of donors lined up while Peck received his official welcome home.

 

A DJ provided non-stop patriotic music and dozens of silent auction items covered several tables pushed against the walls of the VFW, better to accommodate the big crowd of well-wishers.

 

Antioch VFW Commander Ted Hudson, a retired Marine wounded in the Korean War, said he was more than happy to play host to Peck’s official homecoming.

 

“I am happy to see how the community supports him. It’s the very least we can do and it is what all veterans do for each other,” Hudson said.

 

Tammy Basile, spokeswoman for LifeSource, said there were 30 staff members on hand to register donors and take blood. She said the response to the blood drive was overwhelming.

 

“This is an outstanding turnout. The community is really rallying around this cause and staff is proud to be here. He is our hero,” Basile said.

 

Dad Zenio stood by Peck’s side as he visited with people.

 

“Nothing has ever stopped him, and he has always done the right thing throughout his life. What he has accomplished this year meets and exceeds my expectations. He has the character and ability to do anything he sets his mind to.

 

“I never expected him to be this far along in his recover to come home less than a year later,” he said. “Whatever direction he chooses for his future he will get there and we will support him.”

 

As Peck heads back to Washington, he and his mom will finalize the location of a new home that will be built and adapted to his needs in Silver Springs, Md. The house will be funded by Tunnel to Towers Foundation and he expects it to be completed by May 2012.

 

He would like to live closer to his family in Antioch, “but I don’t think the VA hospital here would know what to do with me.” Instead, he will remain close to medical facilities in Washington.

 

As his first visit home comes to a close, he wants people to know he does not want sympathy.

 

“I don’t need it. A simple ‘thank you for what you did’ is enough and if you see another veteran or someone you know is military or in uniform, say thank you to them,” he said. “That means a lot to all of us.”

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