Family put holiday on hold to welcome soldier

For most people, the Christmas tree has long since been thrown out, the holiday lights and decorations taken down and put away until next year.

But one Valley cul-de-sac has kept its decorations intact, and a family has held off Christmas celebrations until this week in an effort to give a local Marine a taste of the holiday cheer he missed out on while stationed in Iraq.

Lance Cpl. Donald Thurnherr II, 20, returned home Thursday night after being wounded in Fallujah, Iraq, to find his neighborhood glowing with Christmas lights more than a month after the holiday had passed.

“It was a complete surprise,” said Thurnherr, who lives in the 14000 block of North 55th Place in Phoenix. “I came down the street and the whole block had kept their lights up for over a month, just so I could see Christmas lights.”

Thurnherr, who graduated from Phoenix’s Horizon High School in 2004, was injured on Dec. 23 when two roadside bombs exploded near him, knocking him unconscious for more than 12 hours and leaving him without hearing in one ear, a temporary loss of feeling in his left arm and shrapnel wounds in his left leg.

He spent Christmas in an Air Force hospital 40 miles north of Baghdad before returning home on a temporary leave. He must return next week to the Twenty-nine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in California.

His mother, Pam Thurnherr, said the timing of her son’s injury was especially nerve-wracking.

“It was very stressful, almost surreal,” she said. “It’s hard to accept at first. We never stopped worrying, but it just intensified at that point.”

Pam Thurnherr said her daughter Amanda, 17, first came up with the idea of postponing Christmas until Donald returned home.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Pam Thurnherr said. “I talked to the neighbors, and everyone agreed. It just snowballed from there.”

Don Garoutte, 43, of Olympia, Wash., a neighbor of the Thurnherrs since 1993, said he was excited to help the family.

“We were going to be out of town for two weeks for Christmas, so we weren’t even going to set up lights,” Garoutte said. “But once I heard, we made sure to set them up.”

All of the houses in the cul-de-sac have Christmas lights still hanging. One has a number of Christmas wreaths hung on the wall, and an inflatable snowman stands watch in one front yard.

Miniature American flags line the edge of another lawn.

Donald Thurnherr’s life has changed significantly since he left for Iraq on July 4, a date his mother said now holds even more significance.

He proposed to his girlfriend of over two years upon returning to the United States. She said yes. His son recently turned 3. The family dog just had puppies.

His family’s decision to wait for him to celebrate Christmas was special, even if it was in February. “It felt just like how I remembered Christmas as a little kid,” Thurnherr said. “Being home is the best gift I got.”

Comments are closed.