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12:53 AM Tue, Dec. 11th

Actor presents Purple Heart to soldier from Kingman

William T.

Latham, a 1992 graduate of Kingman High School, was awarded a Purple Heart in his room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., on Friday by a surprise visitor.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger accompanied several military officials to the hospital, where Latham has been a patient since May 27.

Also present was Latham's wife, Melissa, and his older sisters, Susan Wood and Shannon Shelton.

"I asked Susan what Arnold Schwarzenegger said to Will," Brenda Latham, mother of the wounded soldier, said from her home in Kingman.

"What he said was, 'I play a hero in the movies, but you're a hero in real life'."

Sid and Brenda Latham plan to fly to Washington on Thursday for their first visit with their son since he was wounded.

Latham, an army staff sergeant, was lead scout with Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Carson, Colo.

He was hit on the left side of the head May 19 by grenade shrapnel in what investigators believe was a friendly-fire incident during a reconnaissance mission in Iraq.

The incident remains under investigation, Brenda Latham said.

Latham was first taken to a hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, for treatment before being transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"They kept Will in an artificial coma for transport and to allow his body time to heal," Brenda Latham said.

"But they've now eliminated the coma and cut back on his pain medications.

"He's exhausted, but he wakes up for short periods of time."

Latham has breathing and feeding tubes inserted through his mouth down his throat, so he is unable to talk.

He can mouth a word or two and blink his eyes in response to questions, Brenda Latham said.

Her son has begun to show feeling on the right side of his body, where motor skills were affected by the head wound on the left side, she said.

"Doctors had to remove part of his skull cap to relieve brain swelling in Germany," Brenda Latham said.

"They removed some splinters from the shrapnel but they doubt if they can ever remove the main piece of shrapnel because that would be more damaging than to leave it there and let the brain heal around it."

The family thanks everyone for the constant expression of thoughts and prayers about their son, Brenda Latham said.