A Marine from Soddy-Daisy who was shot in the face during combat in Iraq returned to the war zone soon after the incident that killed his comrade, his family said.
“I thought it was ridiculous that they were sending him back, because he still had a hole in his face,” said Tera O’Keefe, whose husband, Cpl. Daniel O’Keefe, was injured on Jan. 19. “They told him they wanted to keep him at the hospital, but he argued with them: ‘I need to go back. I’m ready to go back.’”
After less than two weeks in a hospital in Germany, Lance Cpl. O’Keefe, 22, returned to Iraq and worked light duty until last week, Mrs. O’Keefe said. Now he has returned to patrols and plans to serve out his deployment until his scheduled return in April, she said.
A Marine from Tunnel Hill, Ga., Lance Cpl. James Michael Gluff, 20, was killed in the suicide bomber attack that injured Cpl. O’Keefe and two other Marines. Before they deployed to Iraq, the men had been stationed together at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and sometimes rode home together for visits, Cpl. O’Keefe’s mother said.
Returning to Iraq is one way her son is coping with the loss of his friend, Angie O’Keefe said.
“They have such a strong bond and I just think he felt like he needed to back with his men,” she said. “I pray he is as strong as he seems.”
Tera O’Keefe traveled to Germany to see her husband in a military hospital there a few days after he was injured. The bullet entered his face below his eye, bounced off his jawbone and exited his face near the spot where it entered, she said.
“It didn’t break any bones,” she said. “He just had a hole in his face. They did some surgery.”
Surgeons opted to leave some of the shrapnel in his face because they feared causing nerve damage if they were too aggressive in going after the metal, Angie O’Keefe said. Her son, the youngest of her three boys, can’t quite open his mouth all the way, but had few other lasting effects from the injury, she said.
“It sounds a lot worse really than it was,” she said. “It wasn’t nearly as bad as you would think of when you’re told you son has been shot in the face.”
Cpl. O’Keefe joined the Marines at 19, signing up without telling anyone in his family, his mother said.
“He left here one morning to talk to the recruiter, and by the time he got home that afternoon he had joined,” she said. “I can’t say I was really happy about it but I also knew he had to make up his own mind.
“He is very strong-willed. When he sets his mind to something, that’s what he’s doing.”
Tera O’Keefe, who is living with her parents in the Chattanooga area while her husband is deployed, said she is not surprised Cpl. O’Keefe fought to return to Iraq and the Marines after he was hurt.
“That’s just him,” she said. “I kind of expected it.”