Wednesday morning when Marine Sgt. Joshua Horton was shown the videotape of his five newborn children, he reached from his hospital bed at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and touched the TV screen.
It was the only connection he could make over the 700 miles between the hospital where he is recovering from severe wounds he received in Iraq last week and the suburban Chicago hospital where his wife gave birth to their quintuplets Monday.
"I wish I could have been there," his wife, Taunacy, 28, said yesterday. "But I know he is keeping them in his heart until he can see them in person."
Seldom has war wrenched a family the way it has the Hortons of Oswego, Ill., in the past eight days.
On Oct. 7, Joshua Horton, also 28, a Marine Corps Reservist who is a police officer in civilian life, was badly wounded by a grenade or other shrapnel-producing explosive during combat outside Baghdad, the Marines said.
Word of his injury reached his wife in Edward Hospital, in Naperville, Ill., where she had been for three weeks -- 26 weeks into an already high-stress, precarious pregnancy and about a month after her husband had left for the war.
Doctors are not sure what role the bad news played. But by Monday, as her unconscious husband was being airlifted to Bethesda, Taunacy Horton began to experience bleeding, and the babies were born via emergency Cesarean section at 1 p.m.
Three girls and two boys, weighing from 1 pound 9 ounces to 1 pound 15 ounces -- "these angels," their mother called them -- were delivered within a span of two minutes.
All were listed in critical condition, as was their wounded father, whose injuries were to his right leg and the right side of his torso.
After the family's situation was publicized, Taunacy Horton received a great outpouring of support from the community.
"Thank you for your prayers," she said in a statement after the babies were born. "Please keep them coming."
The Hortons had met at the Bethesda hospital Aug. 11, 1995, when she was stationed there in the Navy and he was based in the Washington area with the Marines. The older of their two other children, Sean, 7, was born there in 1997. They also have a daughter, Shaleigh, 5.
Both parents subsequently left the service and settled in Oswego. But Joshua Horton joined the Marine Reserve after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks out of a sense of duty, said Maj. Rick Coates, a spokesman for Horton's Chicago-based Marine battalion.
The battalion, 1,000 strong, was called up in June. Horton, aware that his wife was pregnant with quintuplets, could easily have opted out of the deployment to Iraq, Coates said. But Horton, a squad leader in charge of 12 riflemen, decided he should go.
"It was a family decision," Coates said. "Think about what that family decided to do."
The battalion shipped out last month.
Yesterday morning, Horton talked to his wife on the phone for the first time since the quintuplets were born.
"As you can imagine, it was a very emotional and special moment for us," his wife said yesterday.
Joshua Horton's mother, Lauchlan, spoke at the naval hospital yesterday and said her son is recovering well. He was to undergo surgery yesterday, the hospital said.
Naval hospital officials said that he probably will stay at Bethesda two to three more weeks and that he probably will make a complete recovery. His wife was released from Edward Hospital yesterday.
The quintuplets' future is more uncertain. Donald Taylor, a physician who helped deliver them, said that because of their extremely premature birth, their chances of survival are about 60 to 70 percent.
"If we make it through the first week . . . their chances of survival jump to greater than 90 percent," he said.
The infants, who had shown no serious problems as of yesterday, will probably stay in the hospital for about 12 weeks, he said.
"My hope is that Josh will be here when we first get to hold our new babies," his wife said yesterday. "I can't wait until we can be reunited and go through this together."