DIAMOND, Ill. — A Diamond family whose lives were put on hold by news of a son wounded in Afghanistan over the summer is now working to resume a sense of normalcy.
In the weeks following a July 12 rocket-propelled grenade blast that critically wounded Cpl. Joe Singer, a 22-year-old Marine on his second tour in Afghanistan, Singer was taken to Germany and Maryland before being brought home. By September, Singer was in significantly better health and called back to light duty at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Singer's mother, Jennifer Cherveny, said Tuesday that was sooner than she had expected.
"I was really taken by surprise because I thought, 'Well, you know you got really hurt, I wouldn't think they'd request you back, but you have time on your contract,'" she said. "It's how the military works, I guess."
Singer's time with the Marine Corps is set to end in January.
The move to North Carolina also came with a special event — Singer receiving a Purple Heart. He was presented with the honor in a ceremony held Sept. 19. Cherveny said she was unable to attend because there was not enough prior notice to make the trip.
She said Singer had mixed feelings about the award.
"He kind of said it was something he didn't really want to have to get, but I told him that Purple Heart is something to be very proud of," she said. "I said, 'Be proud of yourself.'"
The daughter of a Purple Heart recipient herself — her father served in the Vietnam War — Cherveny said she's proud of him.
"I'm happy for him," she said. "He deserved it, for all that he's been through."
Cherveny said a recent doctor's visit has shown Joe is in good health. Cherveny said the goal is for him to regain some of the nearly 40 pounds of weight he's lost, as well as just continuing monitoring to make sure he isn't having any problems. Because of severe wounds to his abdomen, she said a number of health concerns could pop up, from intestinal issues to a detached colon.
"We have to watch everything," she said. "He'll have to be careful probably for the rest of his life, with everything, because there was so much damage done to him internally."
From receiving the initial notice to being tied up in D.C. with last-minute passport issues, Cherveny recounted the trip to see her son in a military hospital in Germany.
She said it did not compute with what she had initially been told — that her son had broken ribs, leg damage and shrapnel damage. A few days after the message, she was summoned overseas when his condition worsened. She said she was not prepared to see what she saw at the hospital.
"I walked into Germany and I saw dead kids missing arms, legs, hands and faces. That's something I don't think that anybody should see," she said. "And then you're seeing your own son who is so damaged, it's almost like hell. That's just hell alone, itself, right there in that hospital."
She flipped through photos on her iPhone to show photos of Joe at various stages of care, showing modest steps forward.
"We've just come a long way," she said. "I'm so proud of how he's done. Being young and strong — that probably saved him."
As Singer has transitioned to base life, Cherveny is transitioning back to day-to-day life herself, trading in caring for her son for her job at The Chrome Rack in Diamond. She said she's becoming acclimated with the "new normal" in her life.
"The new normal is just trying to restart your life all over," she said. "... So far, it's going. (I'm) getting back to work and trying to readjust."
Cherveny said what has helped tremendously in that transition has been the support of the local community and from beyond. She wasn't able to immediately see the growing support as locals pinned up yellow ribbons in Diamond and Coal City or see checks coming into a local fund in Singer's name, but she was able to see the hundreds of people who befriended her on Facebook, interested in updates.
"It's just amazing, the help our family has received. It's been a blessing," she said. "I don't know what I would have done without the community backing us up like that — it was incredible"
She said if she could say anything to the many who have shown support, it's 'Thanks.'
"Just a big thank you for all the support," she said. "It meant a lot in a pretty traumatic time of our lives."