A Portland High School graduate who has been leading a Marine battalion that’s working to rout the Taliban from southern Afghanistan is due back in the U.S. today after being seriously injured in an explosion.

Lt. Col. John E. McDonough was returning from patrol in a convoy just over a week ago when a roadside bomb blew up under the armored vehicle he was in, said his father, former Portland Fire Chief Joseph McDonough.

John McDonough, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, was traveling with high-ranking provincial officials, his father said. After the explosion, the convoy was attacked by Taliban fighters.

The Marines fought off the assault, and McDonough was airlifted to Bagram Air Base, then on to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The explosion broke a couple of McDonough’s vertebrae and an ankle, his father said.

”Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated,” his father said. ”At first they just said, ‘Blown up.’”

Late Tuesday, McDonough was being flown to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to recuperate.

McDonough, 41, was an all-state football player at Portland High, an all-New England wrestler and defensive captain of the football team at Northeastern University in Boston. He made the Marine Corps his career and has risen through the ranks.

He was a major when he served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and later was awarded a Bronze Star.

McDonough deployed to Afghanistan’s Helmand province in October, his father said.

Joseph McDonough and his wife, Ann, were sitting down to lunch Saturday when they got a telephone call from their daughter-in-law. John McDonough’s wife, Ruth, who is at Camp Lejeune, N.C., with the couple’s four children, told them that he had been badly injured.

They were stunned and terrified.

”Her face dropped,” Joseph McDonough said of his wife. ”I yelled.”

Joseph McDonough served with the Marines, but said he didn’t push his son to join. He thought John might join the FBI.

But he became a Marine after graduating from Northeastern and has found his niche, teaching amphibious warfare and basic officer school at Quantico, Va., among other assignments. He has earned two master’s degrees and has been accepted to attend the Naval War College in Rhode Island.

Recently, he has been in the thick of the fighting in Afghanistan, working with the Afghan national security force. He didn’t want to leave, even after being injured, according to an e-mail he sent to his command staff and shared with his father.

”I can’t describe how much it pains me to leave — or how hard I tried to not get sent back” to the United States, he wrote. ”Please let your men know that I love them and believe in them very much and that I’m very proud of their courage and selflessness on a daily basis.”

Joseph McDonough credits the armored vehicle his son was riding in with saving his life.

The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle is designed to protect its occupants from improvised explosive devices, which are ubiquitous in Afghanistan. It has heavy armor plating and sloped sides coming up from the bottom to deflect the force of a blast.

”If this were a Humvee, it would be a totally different story,” Joseph McDonough said.

The vehicle was blown high into the air, he said, and ”when that thing came down, everybody’s bones got broken.”

Joseph McDonough asked his son why, given his rank, he was out in harm’s way. His son asked sarcastically whether he should hide under his desk instead.

The elder McDonough said he and his wife will go to Bethesda this weekend to visit their son.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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