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With Iraq War Come Layers of Loss

That evening, two Army officers in dress uniforms rang the doorbell at the McGinnis home in Knox, Pa.

"At that moment, I felt as if I had slipped off the edge of a cliff and there was nothing to grab onto," wrote McGinnis's father, Tom, in a statement provided to The Washington Post. "If only my life could have ended just a moment before this."

The following morning, news of the death of the lanky 6-foot-tall amateur mechanic rippled through the small community of 1,200, where his high school graduating class had 86 students. McGinnis, who was promoted posthumously to specialist and recommended for the Medal of Honor, was the first soldier from the town to die in Iraq.

"It was such a shock," said Vicky Walters, the high school assistant principal, who had known McGinnis since he was a baby. "We're grief-stricken. We were some of the ones who were insulated." About 7 percent of high school graduates in Knox, in western Pennsylvania, join the military.

McGinnis joined the Army at 17, before graduating in spring 2005. That fall, he came back to school in his uniform. It was the last time Walters would see him. "He just beamed," she said, choking up.

McGinnis's father, reflecting on his family's loss, wrote that his son went to war not to die but "to fight and win and come home to us and marry and grow old and have children and grandchildren."

"But die he did, and his mother, dad and sisters must face that fact and go on without him, believing that someday we will meet again." (Tom McGinnis's full statement can be read at

'Home to a Different Life'

Christopher and Brandon Adams can't grasp what has happened. "They don't understand why Daddy talks that way, why Daddy can't play, why Daddy can't throw a football for them," Summer Adams said from her living room in Miramar, Fla.

Her husband, John, a Florida National Guardsman, was severely disabled in August 2003 by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Sunni insurgent stronghold of Anbar province. He is one of more than 22,000 service members who have been wounded in Iraq.

After the phone call telling her he had been injured, she waited three frantic days to find out where he was, she said, a complaint heard from families of others wounded early in the war. When she arrived at the intensive-care unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, she still had no idea about the extent of his injuries. "I guess we are supposed to receive the shock when we reach the hospital," she said.

John, who experienced severe trauma from a quarter-size piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain, lay heavily bandaged "with tubes everywhere," she said. After briefly acknowledging his wife, he fell into a long coma.

Months later, the couple were able to return to Florida, but their challenges had only begun. "We came home to a different life. Nothing was the same anymore," said Summer. John's speech was barely understandable, and though he eventually was able to walk again, he would pass out from vertigo if he looked up.

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