Queens War Hero Awarded Purple Heart – QNS.com

Queens War Hero Awarded Purple Heart

Queens Village resident Ted "Doc" Bittle returned home from Iraq on April 12 after enemy soldiers set off a vest filled with explosives at a Marine check-point near Baghdad. The explosion shattered the orbital bones around his right eye, severing a nerve on the right side of his face. A titanium plate was implanted to replace the shattered bone under his eye, and fragments from the suicide vest remain in his right arm.
Bittle is a tough guy. With his shaved head and unflinching gaze, he looks like he could handle himself in most situations. Now that hes returned home from the war, his toughness will be put to the test as he faces a long road to recovery. He will undergo months of physical therapy to retrain his wrist and his eye, both of which are embedded with shrapnel. He also has to figure out what he wants to do with his life since his medical condition wont allow him to finish out his Navy contract. Bittle is tough enough to deal with all this on his own, but he shouldnt have to.
That was the message sent Saturday when Senator Malcolm Smith hosted "Operation Homecoming" at the New Jerusalem Apostalic Church to celebrate Bittles return from battle. Smith and a group of politicians from southeast Queens, including Congressman Greg Meeks, Councilman James Sanders, Councilman Leroy Comrie and Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, welcomed him home by giving him enough awards, citations and proclamations to fill a room.
"Ted went to war for us overseas," Smith said. "Theres no reason why he should have to go to war for us again just to get basic services, whether its in housing or health care. It strikes me how much veterans have not gotten their just due even though they put their lives on the line for us. Everyday we should be doing something for veterans."
To emphasize that point, Smith has added Lester Muse, a Vietnam vet to his staff, to work on behalf of veterans causes. "We want to find all the other Ted Bittles out there to let them know that there are basic services waiting for them out there," Smith said.
As a Navy hospital corpsman in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine L. Company, Bittle, 32, provided all the medical services for his unit. Even though he was a medic, he spent most of his time repelling enemy ambushes as they moved west of the Euphrades into Baghdad.
"When I was told what my mission was, it sounded like a suicide mission," Bittle said. "We were responsible for taking bridges and going through and securing towns. People were shooting at us all the time."
Bittle, who began his tour of duty in Iraq on February 7, relied on pictures of his then five-month-old son Ari and his wife of five years Denise to get him through the long, windy nights.
"I would look at those pictures every night," said Bittle. "While I was there I was always thinking about the future. All I wanted to do was sit in a coffee shop with my wife and my son and read the paper. Everybody who was there did a lot of thinking."
Denise did a lot of soul searching too. The former United Airlines flight attendant who was furlowed following 9/11 faced a battle of her own, but on a different homefront. In addition to worrying about the safety of her husband, her sons behavior also became a cause for alarm. As soon as Bittle left for Iraq, Denise noticed a change in Aris demeanor. The once happy toddler stopped eating and cried constantly, causing Denise to take him to the hospital three times.
"Ari knew something was going on while Ted was away," said Denise. "He was miserable. I had a lot of emotion inside of me at that time. I needed to be strong for my son but it was hard. I was glued to the television to see what was happening. I was wondering if my husband was ok."
A suicide bomber struck Bittle and his crew on their first day in Baghdad as they were pursuing reports that stated Saddam Hussein was hiding in a stadium. For Bittle, who attained the specialist rank of E4, it was his second go-around against Hussein. He served in Desert Storm as a chaplains assistant at the Pentagon in 1994. This time, he returned from Iraq with a Purple Heart in his hand and a question mark in his future. Fortunately for him, Saturdays event helped him ease his anxieties.
Congressman Meeks awarded Bittle with a Commemorative Congressional plate and said he was humbled by Bittles bravery.
"No amount of awards or medals can adequately express the debt we owe you and your family for the hardships youve endured for our country," said Meeks. "Too often we take things for granted. Were safe in our homes because someone is protecting us. For people like Ted, we dont say thank you enough. Now that youre home, we have to make sure that we take care of you."
John Rowan, a service representative for the Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc., believes Bittle will be eligible for numerous benefits because of the injuries he sustained. He spoke highly of the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service a program offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs that pays for school and living expenses.
Bittle, who can see and walk without assistance, may try and obtain a Masters degree in psychology after he finishes his rehabilitation. The Navy corpsman has the luxury of choosing whether he wants to utilize the VAs benefits or the services provided by the Navy since he might be elegible for both.
"The politicians on Saturday asked me what I want for services, I told them I got what I want Im home with my wife and son."
Bittles presence struck a chord with many people attending his celebration at the church. After listening to Bittles friends express their undying support for him, some in the audience were visibly touched by the outpouring of emotion. Ironically, while others had no problem expressing their feelings, Bittle was still trying to get in touch with his.
"Its hard to understand what I did to deserve all this recognition," he said. "Now that the war is over, I have so much to process. I dont know if the war changed me or what it did to me. What I do know is that now I take every day seriously and I dont take things for granted anymore. I thank God that I made it out alive. I thank God that I can see my wife and my son again. I love this kid."

More from Around New York