Tyler W. Ziegel
October 16, 1982
Peoria, Illinois, United States
|Died||December 26, 2012 (aged 30)|
Illinois, United States
|Occupation||United States Marine|
|Spouse(s)||Renée Kline (2006–2007)|
Ziegel was born in Peoria, Illinois, and was the eldest of two sons of Jeffrey and Rebecca Ziegel. His father worked in construction, his mother was a waitress. After school, Ziegel joined the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2003, after recruit training, he was sent to Iraq.
On December 22, 2004, Marine Sgt. Ziegel and six other marines were part of a convoy coming back to Al Asad Air Base from al-Qaim in northwestern Iraq, when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device near their truck.
Ziegel survived but suffered serious injuries. His left arm was later amputated below the elbow, three fingers of his right hand were lost and, in place of the thumb, the big toe was transplanted. Ziegel became blind in one eye, his ears, nose and lips were burnt off. He also had shrapnel in his skull and a hole in the bone above the brow. For future use, part of Ziegel's skull was implanted into the fatty tissues of the upper part of his body and an artificial plate was placed instead of it. Ziegel also lost his tear duct, replaced by a prosthesis. Some parts of the face that were lost failed to recover even after more than 30 surgeries.
On October 7, 2006, shortly after discharge from the hospital, Ziegel married Renée Kline, whom he met before being sent to Iraq. Their wedding was widely reported by the press in the United States, and their marriage day was declared a holiday in Illinois. The wedding was attended by the American photographer Nina Berman who took a series of shots, one of which won first prize among portraits on World Press Photo.
A year after the wedding, Ziegel and Kline divorced. The reason for the divorce, according to them, was Kline's inability to accept Ziegel's horrible disfigurement, and her old flame from when Ziegel was deployed.
After the tragedy, Ziegel tried to live a socially active life. He was not able to work and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) paid him benefits. However, in 2007, Ziegel started a dispute with the VA over the size of the monthly compensation. Instead of the expected $4,000, initially he was awarded $2,700, which, according to Ziegel, was not enough to comfortably raise a family. Then Ziegel took part in the CNN program Special Investigations Unit, after which his financial demands were met. That program attracted the attention of a wide audience, may of whom expressed their support to Ziegel. Among them was a World War II veteran, Hershel Williams, a retired United States marine, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
In February 2013, Pat Quinn, the Governor of Illinois, referred in his State of the State address to the history of Ziegel as an example of the courage needed by state legislators. He said, "What we all need in this coming session is courage, real political courage to do the right thing. We don't need to look any further for examples of courage than our men and women in uniform. Men like Sergeant Tyler Ziegel, a proud Marine who grew up in Metamora, Illinois ..."
In early May 2013, after an investigation of Ziegel's death, Peoria County Coroner Johnna Ingersoll said that death was caused by alcohol and drug intoxication, not by the fall. The analysis showed that Ziegel had a blood alcohol level of .123 and a level of morphine indicating the presence of heroin was 540 ng/ml. The cause of death, according to Ingersoll, was the combination of these substances. The coroner's jury acknowledged that Ziegel's death was accidental.
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