Walking Wounded – Princeton Marine On the Mend


Evan Reichenthal with Amos Landmark article
Evan receives a Purple Heart for his services from John Amos, Commandant of UMSC U.S. Marine Corps. Submitted photo. Provided by The Landmark

By PHYLLIS BOOTH | The Landmark | Landmark.com | May 12, 2011


Princeton resident Evan Reichenthal lost 26 pints of blood, and part of his right leg from the knee down. His left leg had torn ligaments and burns from the blast from an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) while on foot patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan in January. That blast blew out his right elbow, leaving him with severe nerve damage.


But Evan has set a goal for himself through the trauma walk into the June 4 Wachusett Regional High School graduation to see his best friend’s sister graduate. He’s also been invited to be in the Memorial Day parade in Princeton.


His injuries came in the blink of an eye.


“I was on foot patrol with my unit and we had just cleared an area, sweeping it with a mine detector. The IED was non-metallic, so the sweeper didn’t pick it up,” said Evan. I was blown 20 feet in the air, saw my leg go flying and felt myself hit the ground.


Cheryl with Evan at boot camp. Submitted photo Cheryl with Evan at boot camp. Submitted photo “When it first happened, he thought he was going to die and was holding on to his arm,” said his mother Cheryl Johnson.


With a sweeper, his buddies cleared a path and dragged Evan to an area where the Medevac helicopter could reach him. While he was being taken care of by a Marine corpsman and fellow Marine, the other men in his unit did security to make sure the group wasn’t attacked until the helicopter arrived.


“We had just recently got into a fire fight just a quarter mile from where the IED went off,” said Evan. It’s a very hostile environment over there and very dangerous. They are a tribal society, with no central government or leader. In some areas the people do come out and greet us but in other areas they go and hide.


Evan was conscious during the entire ordeal, and as he was being loaded on to the Black Hawk helicopter, asked if he could have a Dr. Pepper.


Evan Reichenthal with mom Landmark article
Cheryl with Evan at boot camp. Submitted photo. Provided by The Landmark

“His buddies promised they would get some and send it to him,” said Cheryl. Evan has since received cases and bottles of the beverage from his buddies.


The phone call


“I had just talked to Evan the day before this happened,” said Cheryl. “Initially, he was the radio commander, and the irony of it was that two weeks before, his sergeant moved him over to foot patrol,”she said. “My heart dropped when I heard that. He told me he enjoyed the interaction with the people but as a mother, I was petrified.”


Cheryl got the call at noon time on January 5 from Quantico, Va. “I knew it wasn’t good. ‘Just tell me my son is alive,’ ” she said. “They told me he was seriously wounded and at a hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan, a secured base.”


From there, he was flown to a hospital in Germany and Cheryl got to talk with the doctor.


“It’s amazing what they do. They gave him medicine to induce amnesia and the doctor was continuously talking to him,” she says. Evan was flown to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.


“The military flew my husband and me down to Bethesda to be there before Evan got there,” said Cheryl.

He was put in ICU and Cheryl got to see him for the first time.


“He had a breathing tube and couldn’t talk but he would follow me with his eyes.” Evan lost the use of his vocal cords for about seven weeks and couldn’t talk, but when he did, he said, “Mom, I love you and everything’s going to be okay.”


“He’s been an amazing young man,” Cheryl said.


Evan has endured 21 surgeries and the government will follow him closely for the next five years for infection. “When the wounded come in from the war, they are immediately put on three different antibiotics,” she said. “The military doctors are unbelievable.”


Evan’s Path


Evan and his family moved to Princeton in 2004, and he attended Thomas Prince School and graduated from Wachusett Regional High School in 2009. His career goal had always been clear.


“Ever since the seventh grade, he’s wanted to be a Marine,” said Cheryl. “His grandfather was a Marine as was my uncle.” Initially, he planned to go to Norwich University but decided to “make his own path”, and signed up at the Marine office in Worcester.


“I didn’t want him to do that,” said Cheryl. “We were both in tears but he wanted my support.”


In October, he got the call with a 24-hour notice to go to Parris Island – off to boot camp for 12 weeks. For a person referred to as “The peace keeper” his mother was unsure how he’d react to the yelling of the drill sergeants but “scored off the charts” and was asked to go into Intelligence or Presidential detail, she said. “But he wanted to go into the Infantry. He told me all the great leaders started in the infantry.”


At 19, Evan went for Infantry training and eventually was chosen as radio commander in charge of a group, responsible for calling for help when needed. He went to the Mojave Desert in California for training for pre-deployment to the Afghanistan desert. In December 2010, he arrived in Afghanistan.


Evan had only been in Afghanistan for about five weeks when he was wounded. After two weeks in ICU he was seven weeks as an inpatient at Bethesda Naval Hospital where he met the President.


“My brother-in-law is a secret service agent who heads up a Presidential detail,” said Cheryl. “Evan watched the helicopter land and then President Obama walked into the room and said, “I hear your uncle is one of my men in the Boston office.”

“Evan was beyond shock,” said Cheryl. “It was so personal. The entire hospital was in lock down 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. All the blinds in all the windows had to be closed, the dogs checked out all the rooms and there were secret service agents at every door. After he left, we couldn’t leave the floor for hours.”


Sen. Scott Brown and Sen. John Kerry visited Evan and others at Walter Reed.


The last week of April, Evan took his first steps and on May 2 got fitted with his prosthesis. “He walked two complete laps,” said Cheryl. “He used a cane, not a walker. He was thrilled to actually be walking for the first time. He was uncomfortable, and sore, but so excited.”


Evan had been getting into shape for walking, using a stool for his right leg.


“The first day Evan stood up, his staff Sgt. got a whole crew to come in and cheer him on,” Cheryl said. “Adapt and overcome” is the Marine saying. I’m bawling my eyes out and they are all clapping.”


Evan is beginning to get feeling in his right hand. Cheryl has been staying with Evan at the Malone House Hotel at Walter Reed for most of the time since he was wounded. Through his motorized wheelchair, he heads to the main hospital, for physical and occupational therapy and other appointments daily. His company has been distinguished.


“Evan met three medal of honor recipients, two from Vietnam and one from World War II. Evan feels they are the real heroes. We were just floored, it was all so emotional,” said Cheryl.


When asked about Evan’s reaction to news of Osama bin Laden being killed, Cheryl said he and the other men are happy they got him, but are more concerned with their buddies that are still on the front and what they might be going through.


Community Support

Not only has Evan been receiving cards from Wachusett High School students and teachers, honor society students at the school volunteer two days a week, getting up at 5:30 a.m. to go to Evan’s Princeton home to get his sister Hallie, and brother Hunter, on the school bus.


Mike, Evan’s step-dad, works in Boston and has to leave early. The other three days, another friend’s babysitter comes and helps out. “The kids are all seniors, 10 of them,” said Cheryl. “I’ll continue to do this for the month of May and then I’ll be back in June,” said Cheryl. I’m not leaving him until he can walk.”


After school, the younger siblings go to a friend’s home and Mike picks them up after work.”My husband is doing a phenomenal job. The people in this town have been absolutely wonderful. Mary Cringan and the teachers at Thomas Prince and so many others, have been bringing food and fully cooked meals. It’s like we live in Mayberry.”


Hero Miles

The Semper Fi Fund, started by Marines and privately funded, provides flying miles donated by business men and women, so families of wounded Marines are able to fly back and forth to the hospital. The Marines pay for the first and final flight for a family to visit the hospital, so in between, the Semper Fi Fund picks up the cost.


“It’s Marines taking care of Marines,” Cheryl says. “Out of something so bad and horrific, you see all these wonderful things.”


Evan will be at Walter Reed until August then move over to Bethesda Naval Hospital for a year all together. Later this year, Evan may do an internship at the FBI.


Evan and Cheryl plan to fly home late May, and Evan fully intends to walk into the Wachusett High School graduation. He’s determined, says his mother. His other goal is to go to college, and become a teacher, and Holy Cross has offered him a full scholarship, says Cheryl. “He’s so overwhelmed by all this.”


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