A U.S. Marine honored last month at the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center has strong ties to the Tamaqua-Panther Valley area.

Cpl. Evan S. Rinkenberg, 3/6 India Company, was wounded by enemy gunfire on June 6 while serving in Marja, Afghanistan.

On June 17, while recuperating at the Maryland medical center, Rinkenberg was awarded the Purple Heart Medal by General James F. Amos, assistant commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

The Purple Heart is a military decoration and the first award made available to the common soldier. It was created as the Badge of Military Merit by General George Washington's General Orders of Aug. 7, 1782, and is the oldest decoration in the world currently in use.

Rinkenberg is the grandson of John and Mary Jean Rinkenberg of Eagle Rock, near Hazleton. Both are former Tamaqua residents.

John is a 1958 graduate of Tamaqua High School and his wife, the former Mary Jean Yorke, is a former Tamaqua and Coaldale resident and a 1958 graduate of Marian High School.

Evan Rinkenberg's parents are Jack and Cherie Spencer Rinkenberg of Woodbridge, Va.

According to reports, Evan Rinkenberg was wounded by enemy fire during combat.

"He was on a machine gun," said John Rinkenberg. "There was a 30-minute exchange with insurgents. He fired about 650 rounds." At that point, however, Rinkenberg was struck in his right hand by enemy fire, with the bullet passing completely through his hand.

Rinkenberg reportedly noticed the extent of the injuries when he looked down and saw the amount of blood loss.

The injured soldier was flown from Afghanistan to Lundstuhl, Germany.

There, Rinkenberg received medical attention for three days before being flown to Bethesda Naval Medical Center for reconstructive surgery, where he is today.

At Bethesda, he was welcomed by family, including his wife, Kristen and their 2-week-old daughter, along with his parents and grandparents.

"One tendon was 90 percent severed. Another was 30 percent severed. They were both reattached. There were shattered bones," said his grandfather.

Doctors were able to close the wounds and no skin grafts were needed.

"He's able to move all of his fingers. That's a good sign," said Rinkenberg. However, doctors won't really know the extent of damage or the amount of rehabilitation needed until later in the healing process.

"He's waiting for the pins in his hand to be removed in about six to eight weeks," said Rinkenberg. After that, he'll undergo rehabilitation at Bethesda or Camp LeJeune. He's also dealing with a knee injury and a certain amount of hearing loss.

"We'll be seeing him on the 16th," said Rinkenberg, who added that Evan's wife gave birth to a daughter, Ryan Savannah, while Evan was serving overseas. He saw his daughter for the first time when he arrived stateside.

Rinkenberg describes his grandson as a caring person who also is "laid back."

He said his grandson remembers the helicopter evacuation flight, and being strapped down inside the chopper with other wounded soldiers. Some of those wounds were severe.

"He saw kids who lost legs and arms," said Rinkenberg, explaining that the sight made Evan thankful that his own injuries weren't worse.

Cpl. Rinkenberg was a regular visitor to Pennsylvania and the Tamaqua area, and is fond of deer hunting in the Keystone State.

He was due to come home in August after multiple tours of duty. In fact, his injuries took place during his third deployment to a combat zone. He was deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2008 before deploying to Afghanistan on Jan. 5, 2010.

John and Mary Jean Rinkenberg are grateful for the support and concern shown their family over the past several weeks.

They're also grateful to know their grandson is safe at home.

We're proud of him," said John. "He's done his part."