A knock came from Sgt. Vincent Reynolds’ door.
He was used to that. Ever since he arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, people have stopped by his room — doctors, nurses, military brass.
Seldom has the Bellefonte native lacked company while recovering from losing part of his left leg to an explosive buried in a southern Afghanistan trail. This was different.
In stepped President Barack Obama.
Visiting wards Tuesday, Obama dropped by to chat with Reynolds, who was injured on Labor Day and moved to Walter Reed last week. They talked about Afghanistan and Reynolds’ 2009 combat tour in Iraq — the wars set in motion by the Sept. 11 attacks 11 years ago Tuesday.
During the visit, Obama gave Reynolds a presidential coin similar to the unit medallions military personnel trade with each other.
“He said he appreciated what we do over there, and he doesn’t take us for granted,” Reynolds said. “He was very open in his appreciation for my sacrifice and the sacrifice of the guys still over there.” He left one impressed soldier.
“I know he’s busy,” Reynolds said. “Just the fact that he took the time to come down and see the wounded soldiers, it was eye-opening to me.”
But another visit Saturday meant much more.
Raylee Reynolds, almost 3, hadn’t seen her daddy in almost eight months.
She latched herself to his arms. Wherever he went, she followed.
“Daddy only has one foot,” she said to family in the room. He asked her where the other was. “The bad guys have it.”
“He just cried,” said Reynolds’ mother, Beth Reynolds. “Vince is a really, really tough kid, but he was just crying like a baby.”
He can’t wait to see her again Friday.
“She’s my world,” he said. “She’s the reason I wake up in the morning.”
"I almost didn't make it"
Reynolds and his squad halted.
They spied a couple of homemade Taliban bombs — a common danger for the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment companies — in the road. The patrol wasn’t going that way.
Off to one side ran a path through a vineyard. It looked clear. Reynolds went first, sweeping with a mine detector.
He stepped on a pressure plate.
The explosion threw him about 15 feet. Landing in a heap, he struggled to check on his men.
“I tried to stand up, and I didn’t have a foot,” he said. “So I fell back over.”
One man had been slightly wounded. Reynolds took most of the blast. Pain engulfed him, and he called for medic Pfc. Ben Weston.
Weston gave Reynolds painkillers and tied tourniquets on his legs, both of which were riddled with shrapnel. Men pulled him on a stretcher back to a field for evacuation.
He started losing consciousness. Weston kept him awake, talking to him and pouring water on his neck, urging him to stay with them until the helicopter arrived.
“They had to put a lot of blood back in me,” Reynolds said. “I almost didn’t make it.”
Reynolds, 24, Bellefonte Area High School Class of 2006, has had six or seven operations. It’s hard to keep track. The last today closes his amputation below his knee.
He owns a Purple Heart.
And a resilient spirit.
Family members say he’s the same wisecracking, positive guy as before, cheering up the family who came to cheer up him last weekend. He made jokes about getting half price on boots.
“A lot of it has to do with his attitude,” Beth Reynolds said. “He’s telling the doctors and physical therapists, ‘Let’s get this show on the road. Let’s get me walking again.’ ”
His beloved grandfather, Chuck Reynolds, of Port Matilda, made the trip. As his grandson grew up, they hunted, fished and played baseball together.
Reynolds couldn’t believe the humor coming from the hospital bed: “He was all chipper. He sounded like himself.”
He was being himself. “It’s just kind of my personality,” Vincent Reynolds said. “I can’t grieve over what happened. I’ve got to move on. If I kind of shut down because of it, the world is going to move on without me.”
Having family surround him helped. He had been self-reliant for so long, on guard, responsible for his men, for himself. In the presence of loved ones, he could finally let go.
“When they came down, it was a huge burden lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “They helped me with everything. I didn’t need the doctors any more. I had my family to take care of me.”
But he can’t release everything. His guys are still walking trails.
“It’s one of the heartaches I have,” he said. “I’m so happy to be home, happy to be with my family. But there are times I think I don’t belong here. I should be back over with my soldiers, leading them.”
People say they’re praying for him. He wishes they would pray for his squad.
“They’re the ones who need it,” he said. “I’m safe. I’m OK now.”
At the hospital, a friend told Reynolds to “hang in there.”
“He said, ‘Hey, I’m not dead. I lost a foot. I have another one,’” Beth Reynolds said.
Her son also had a ready quip when his younger brother crowed that he now owned the upper hand in their customary wrestling matches. “No,” the five-year infantry veteran who re-enlisted said. “I’ll just take my leg off and beat you with it.”
So far he can struggle for 100 feet with crutches.
It’s a start.
“All this, I wouldn’t even call it a setback,” he said. “I would call it a pause.”
He’s got things to do: rock climbing, swimming, working out, tinkering with his pickup truck, keeping up with a little girl who’s just ecstatic her daddy is back.
“I promised my daughter I would teach her to play baseball,” he said. “This ain’t going to stop me.”
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter@CRosenblumNews.