Wednesday, October 13, 2004

CHICAGO (AP) — As Marine Sgt. Joshua Horton lay in a hospital bed across the ocean recovering from wounds he suffered in Iraq, his wife was in a maternity ward in suburban Illinois, making him a father again — five times over.

Sgt. Horton knew that his wife was expecting quintuplets, but decided it was his duty to go to Iraq last month with Marines who he helped train — even if it meant leaving behind his wife and the two children they already had.

“He was taking them into combat for the first time. He wanted to get them there safely and return,” said Dean Fisher, the bishop of Sgt. Horton’s church in Oswego, a Chicago suburb.

Yesterday, a day after his wife, Taunacy, gave birth to three girls and two boys, Sgt. Horton was back in the United States, but not with his family. He was transported from a hospital in Germany to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

A Marine spokesman said Sgt. Horton, 28, is expected to recover but was so heavily sedated that he probably was not aware that he is a father again.

At Edward Hospital outside Chicago, meanwhile, the quintuplets — each weighing less than two pounds — were in critical but stable condition.

Friends and relatives said Sgt. Horton chose to put his life and family on hold to serve his country.

“This guy is my hero,” said Lt. Bill Powell of the Aurora Police Department, where Sgt. Horton is an officer.

Like many others, Sgt. Horton felt he had to do something after terrorists struck the United States on September 11, 2001. Sgt. Horton had been in the Marines and his wife had been in the Navy, and they thought one of them should volunteer for duty.

“They just both felt very strongly that … somebody needed to defend our country,” said Mrs. Horton’s stepmother, Anne Watts.

When Sgt. Horton’s Chicago-based unit was activated in June for training in preparation for deployment to Iraq, he had a decision to make because he knew his wife was pregnant with quintuplets after having taken fertility drugs.

“One of his greatest comments was, ‘There are other mothers waiting for their sons to get home, and I need to give some other men relief,’” Bishop Fisher said. “Taunacy, as a military mother, she understood that and actually encouraged him.”

On Thursday, Sgt. Horton was in the Babil province south of Baghdad when he was hit with either shrapnel or bullets in his torso and right leg. The military told his family someone tossed a grenade near him when he was on a house-to-house search with a handful of Marines, Mrs. Watts said.

Maj. Rick Coates, the unit’s information officer, didn’t know how long Sgt. Horton would remain in the hospital. Maj. Coates said that Sgt. Horton’s decision, as strange as it might sound to someone who has not been in the military, makes sense to those who have served.

“He has, quite frankly, two families: his wife and kids, and the Marines,” he said. “He felt he had two obligations, one to his family and one to the other family.”

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