The Soldier Comes Home

by Bruce Anderson, June 4, 2008

Jesse Slotte comes home tomorrow, home with a purple heart, home from a war that almost claimed him as another of its innumerable victims, home not all the way recovered from wounds to every part of his body, home to a place he wondered if he'd ever see again, home from a war lots of Americans think is a bad idea, home to a place happy to see him back whatever they think of the forces that almost killed him.

The young sergeant's welcome home begins Thursday at 5pm when Anderson Valley assembles in Boonville in front of the Fairgrounds and along the highway to greet the Slottes as they arrive. Then, on Saturday, the 14th of June, a community barbecue in honor of Sergeant Slotte will be held at the Boonville Fairgrounds. Everyone is invited.

Sergeant Slotte is driving to Anderson Valley from Fort Lewis, Washington, with his wife Maricela and their two small children, Felix and Celisa. The 21-year-old Army sergeant has made such a remarkable but as yet incomplete recovery from his injuries that he is now able to travel. The Slottes had flown to Fort Lewis from San Antonio because Jesse was determined to re-unite with his combat unit as it arrived from its latest tour of duty in Iraq. Jesse hadn't seen his fellow soldiers since mid-November when he was nearly killed by a roadside bomb. The Slottes departed Fort Lewis Tuesday to arrive here Thursday afternoon.

Since that nearly fatal November morning in Baghdad, Sgt. Slotte, 21, has undergone countless surgeries at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio. Doctors at first were skeptical that Slotte would survive. He had been so severely wounded that he had to be initially maintained in a medically-induced coma from which he was slowly retrieved until he could recognize family members clustered at his hospital bed. From there — death's very door — Slotte began a long recuperative process that has been so successful it can only be described as miraculous.

The soldier's most severe wound, among a multiplicity of severe wounds, was to Sergeant Slotte's left leg; it was severed at the shin, but newly developed methods of orthopedic remediation, his doctors say, will re-attach his upper leg with his lower. Slotte is now able to get around with the aid of a cane and anticipates full use of his injured leg in another few months.

The bomb that nearly killed him was preceded by other incidents which also could have been fatal. While clearing a house of enemy combatants, Slotte stepped on a triggering device that blew up the floor above him, "knocking him goofy for a little bit," his dad, Eddie Slotte, said at the time. On another occasion Slotte took a sniper round through a shirt sleeve, and he was "blown off" the top of a Stryker armored vehicle when a street bomb exploded beneath it. "Dad," the prescient soldier said, "it's not if you're going to get blown up over here, it's when."

The popular Slotte family has deep roots in the Anderson Valley, as do the Penas, the family of Jesse's wife, Maricela. The Penas make their home in Philo.

As a high school football player, Jesse Slotte was an All-Empire running back whose rushing records are among the best ever compiled by a local athlete. Doctors say his strong, athletic constitution has had much to do with his being able to overcome his multiple injuries.

Sgt Slotte is one of six young Anderson Valley men serving in the Middle East. There were seven until Manuel "Manny" Mendoza-Valencia, also of Boonville and a graduate of Anderson Valley High School, now in his early thirties, lost both his legs when his armored personnel carrier was hit by an improvised explosive device in October of 2004 in Sadr City, Iraq. The Mendoza family lives on Lambert Lane, Boonville. Mendoza-Valencia now lives in San Ramon. His younger brother, Tino, attends Anderson Valley High School.

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