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Injured Queens medic returns home to celebration

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A wounded Queens Village corpsman who survived a suicide bomber's attack in Baghdad was welcomed home Saturday at a church party in Springfield Gardens Saturday.

Ted Bittle, who turned 32 Monday, returned to Queens April 25 from serving as a medic with the U.S. Navy and was honored at the New Jerusalem Apostolic Church in Springfield Gardens last weekend.

"I've been waiting to get back home since the day I left," said Bittle, who was awarded the Purple Heart. "It's wonderful holding my wife and son."

Bittle, who had served in the Army for five years after high school, decided to rejoin the military after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Bittle worked as a medic with the U.S. Navy and was assigned to a Marine unit in the Middle East.

On April 11, shortly after the United States had captured Baghdad, a suicide bomber blew himself up just a few feet from Bittle.

No one but the bomber was killed in the attack, but Bittle and four soldiers were seriously injured.

The only clear sign of Bittle's injury was the large scar underneath his right eye. But appearances were deceiving.

Bittle still has shrapnel buried throughout his body, and he is constantly in pain.

"The vision in my right eye is pretty much gone," Bittle said. "My orbital socket was completely destroyed. ... I have no feeling in the right side of my face."

At Saturday's event, a host of southeast Queens politicians promised Bittle that the government would not forget his injuries.

"We've got to make sure that we take care of you at home as well," U.S. Rep Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) told Bittle. "Anything that you need, we are but a phone call away."

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said Bittle, as one of the first soldiers to return home to Queens, should be held up as a "poster child" for improved treatment of veterans.

"There's absolutely no reason on earth when they come back here that they should have to go to war for basic services," Smith said.

Meeks, Smith, Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) and Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) all presented certificates or proclamations honoring him.

With a degree in psychology from George Mason University, Bittle is considering becoming a teacher. The corpsman said he was not too worried about receiving adequate care.

Since his injuries are so extensive, Bittle said his case was "clear cut," and he was confident he would get the necessary benefits.

But the corpsman worried that soldiers with less extensive injuries would not get the proper care, and he hoped in his role as a "poster boy" he could help call attention to their plight.

The ceremony, which included singing and a dance performance by the JJ Dance Studio, was organized by Bittle's wife, Denise.

"I wanted everyone to come in to honor him. He's my hero," she said.

The couple has a son, Ari, who is 9 months old.

Two friends of Bittle also helped run the show. One of those friends, Nancy Ingerman, actually met Bittle on a plane. Ingerman, a flight attendant with United Airlines, asked for help for a sick passenger on a flight a year ago.

Bittle sprang up to assist the passenger.

"I remember his calmness in the situation in knowing what to do, his graciousness," Ingerman said.

Bittle, who flew back and forth between a base in California and Queens, actually helped passengers on two other flights, Ingerman said.

Shane Carter, who roomed with Bittle at a Virginia base in the early 1990s, told the crowd gathered at the church of "the red high-top shoes" Bittle loved to wear.

"They were the goofiest things," Carter joked.

Carter recalled Bittle's working at a homeless shelter several years ago.

Carter read in a poem he wrote: "He's the man who doesn't say I. ... The man sacrificed for others, part body, part mind."

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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