Technical Sergeant Israel Del Toro dreamed of giving his wife, Carmen, the big church wedding and reception she always dreamed of.
But events in Afghanistan put those plans on hold. Four years ago, Sergeant Del Toro, an Air Force joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) was critically wounded by an improvised explosive device. Air Force Times writer Patrick Winn recounted the attack--and Del Toro's struggle to survive:
"We had just crossed a creek when I felt that blast," he said. "That heat blast I'll never forget."
Del Toro recalls crawling, fiery and smoking, into the dirt. And then, limping on [Army Lieutenant Brian] Findley's arm, sinking into the nearby stream to cool his cooking insides.
His flesh hissed like water in a skillet. He heard ammo in the Humvee he had been riding in begin to crackle and explode.
He went cold and strained to breath, struggled to mouth the code words used to alert airlift medics over half-fried communications gear.
Here, Del Toro's recollections begin to dim in and out. Stay awake, Findley begged. Remember your kid, D.T.?
A helicopter ride. At the hospital, the doctor cutting loose his favorite watch.
Then, three months of darkness.
But that was only the beginning of Sergeant Del Toro's ordeal. Over the months that followed, he made a near-miraculous recovery from his wounds--including burns over 80% of his body--with his wife by his side. As he continues a long and difficult rehabilitation, TSgt Del Toro is also fighting to stay in the Air Force. The consequences of his injuries will prevent him from serving as a JTAC in the field, but Del Toro believes he can still make a contribution. He's not a man who easily gives up, or forgets a promise.
Which brings us back to that wedding reception near Chicago. The event contained at least two surprises, according to press accounts. Via video, Singer Richard Marx performed Carmen's favorite song, "Right Here Waiting," and dedicated it to the couple. And members of the Idlewild Country Club in Flosmoor, Illinois (where the reception was held) quietly picked up the $15,000 tab.
If the Air Force Times article is correct, there wasn't a dry eye in the house when Sergeant Del Toro led his bride onto the dance floor. And rightfully so.
ADDENDUM: Call us cynical, but as we read the story of Technical Sergeant Del Toro' struggle to live, we thought of that infamous "End of Life" guide, now in use by the Veteran's Administration. Thank God such documents aren't used in the treatment of our wounded warriors. We found it a bit ironic that Assistant VA Secretary Tammy Duckworth (a former Army helicoper pilot who suffered life-threatening injuries in Iraq) was trotted out to defend the recent re-introduction of the decision-making guide. Had such a document been in use when Captain Duckworth and TSgt Del Toro returned from the battlefield, it's quite possible that neither of them would be with us today.