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Injured soldier recovers

Valencia High School graduate nearly loses finger in an explosion while fighting in Afghanistan

Posted: August 11, 2009 8:19 p.m.
Updated: August 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.

For his first Halloween costume, 4-year-old Jonathan Morita insisted on dressing up as Confederate Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee.

His demand startled his mother — who has roots in Mexico and Europe — and his father, a third-generation Japanese-American.

“I don’t know where that comes from,” said his mother, Christine Morita. “If you look at the both of us, I don’t know what (part of our) gene pool is in the South. ... He’s got to be an old soul, if you believe in that sort of thing.”

His passion for war, however, came with risk. Army Cpl. Jonathan Morita, now 24, was wounded July 7 in a rocket-propelled grenade blast in Afghanistan that injured two other soldiers. He is being treated at a Washington, D.C., Army facility and is at risk of losing a finger on his right hand.

The admitted military-history fanatic enlisted in the Army immediately after he graduated from Valencia High School in 2003, where he was a center for the football team.

Since then, his personal military history has been compelling: He first spent a year in Iraq, surviving a hotel bombing with slight injuries.

On July 7, during his second tour through Afghanistan, he and several other soldiers were ambushed near the end of a patrol shift southwest of Kabul.

He said in Iraq, attacks on American soldiers weren’t typically well-executed. Insurgents would just shoot a bit and run.

He described foes in Afghanistan as better trained.

“I’ve been through some firefights before, but I’ve never been in one where bad guys are actually fighting back,” he said during a phone interview with The Signal on Tuesday. “That would be a first.”

The enemies pinned them down with gunfire and surrounded them. Someone fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Morita’s group.

The blast blew Morita’s rifle out of his right hand, shattering his bones and ripping open his index finger. Sgt. 1st Class Mark Allen of the Georgia National Guard suffered a severe injury to his head, and Army Spc. Medic Charles Benson suffered wounds to his hands.

The fighting went on for some time after the blast, but someone called in an air strike that allowed the wounded soldiers to escape.

“If it wasn’t for that air strike ... .” Jonathan’s father, Michael Morita, said, trailing off.

“You’d have a different story,” Christine Morita added.

A nonprofit group in Georgia paid for Morita’s parents to visit him at Walter Reed Medical Center earlier this month. They said he appeared grateful to be alive, but not quite happy.

Doctors have stitched together Morita’s right hand with pins, wires and glue, his parents said.

Michael Morita, a U.S. Air Force veteran, described the gruesome sight as a “Frankenstein hand.”

“We just can’t wait ’til he gets home,” Christine Morita said.

Jonathan said he isn’t sure what he’ll do when he gets back in about a year or so, but it won’t involve gunfights.

He’s focused on doing what he can to regain the use of his right hand. Then, perhaps, he’ll spend some quality time with his 1965 Ford Mustang.

“I just can’t wait to go home and enjoy some In-N-Out burgers and drive my car around town,” he said.



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