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Injured Air Force Capt. Tony Simone honored for Veterans Day

Capt. Tony Simone, right, who was injured when his rescue helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan in June 2010 talks to veterans at Sunny Hill Nursing Home. (Mary Owen/Tribune

Capt. Tony Simone, right, who was injured when his rescue helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan in June 2010 talks to veterans at Sunny Hill Nursing Home. (Mary Owen/Tribune

Veterans at Sunny Hill Nursing Home in Joliet are recognized Thursday. (Mary Owen/Tribune)

Color guard member from the American Legion Post 1080. (Mary Owen/Tribune)

More than a year ago, U.S. Air Force Capt. Tony Simone’s helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, five days before he was scheduled to return to the United States.

On the eve of Veterans Day, Simone, who suffered traumatic brain injury, was honored during a ceremony at Sunny Hill Nursing Home in Joliet. The event also recognized 22 of its residents who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

“I salute Tony,” said veteran Emery Gurnice, 79, who served as a staff sergeant in the Marines from 1942 to 1950.

Simone spent several months at military hospitals in Tampa, Fla., and Bethesda, Md., where doctors removed a part of his skull because his brain was swelling and treated his burns. Earlier this year, doctors replaced the portion of his skull,  and Simone came to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in April. He is now doing daily outpatient physical therapy in Homewood.

Simone, who walks with a cane and has a speech impediment, read from a statement to the crowd of seniors at Sunny Hill.

“Thank you for all your support,” he said.

Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Will County Executive Larry Walsh and Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante also attended the event. Kinzinger, who is a member of the Air National Guard and served in Iraq, said Simone and other rescue pilots play an important role during war.

They are “people whose job it is to save people,” Kinzinger said. On Simone brown jumpsuit was a patch with green feet –the symbol for rescue crews.

“We’re really proud of your service,” Kinzinger said. “We’re really proud of your sacrifice.”

On June 9, 2010, Simone was a co-pilot for a Pave Hawk search and rescue helicopter when it was shot down. Five people on the plane died. Simone, credited with landing the helicopter,  and a gunner survived.

Simone’s wife, Andrea, is a 2002 Joliet Catholic Academy graduate.  The couple and their 2-year-old son, Will, lived in Las Vegas while Simone was active, but the family is now hoping to buy a house in Joliet.

Andrea Simone did not attend Thursday’s event because she was moving the last of the family’s belonging from Las Vegas and will return this weekend.

The couple married at Joliet’s St. Patrick Church in 2007.  Simone was deployed to Afghanistan in March 2010 for his first tour after doing two tours in Iraq. He is a member of the 66th Rescue Squadron.

Andrea Simone’s father, Paul Boley, of Joliet, said his daughter is excited to return to Joliet, where she still has many friends and family for support. Last year, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Cantigny Post 367 in Joliet held a spaghetti dinner to help raise money for the family.

Simone’s family said it has been a challenging year, but that his progress has been great.

Parents Jeanne and David Simone, who were visiting from Pennsylvania, said the support from people has been overwhelming.

“I don’t know what to say,” Jeanne Simone said. “It makes me feel good. People really do care.”

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