On September 11, 2004 I was in Balad Iraq at LSA Anaconda. I volunteered for this deployment and fought hard to get on it. Besides it being just another day, it was the 4th anniversary of the terror attacks on at the WTC and Pentagon.
That day I woke up 5 minutes early and decided I would grab a cold water before hitting the gym prior to going to work. Our base came under fire daily and was dubbed ‘mortarritavile’ for the constant attacks we took. We heard the many stories of those who were hit by these random acts of terror. One of those killed was A1C Antoine Holt, who had a rocket land next to him while asleep in his tent, instantly taking his life.
When I left my tent 5 min early that morning, I walked out into the blistering heat and took a left turn, then walked no more than 30 feet and a rocket fell out of the sky right on top of me.
No one in their right mind wants a Purple Heart medal, but on that smoking hot day in the Sunni Triangle, fate had its way with me and the actions that unfolded would forever alter my life. Those events that led up to me being greeted by a 107mm rocket had the most impeccable timing, something I thought a lot about; What if I turned right, or didn’t wake up early? In hindsight, those events were out of my control and I just let it be.
Instantly my legs were turned to liquid, my right hand hanging by a flap of skin and my left hand tore up pretty bad; I remember it all. My friends and other servicemen ran towards the blast, ignoring the threat and placed their lives on the line. All while this was going on more rockets were impacting around our compound, it was a full attack.
That was the last time I would walk on my natural legs and it would set a course for a new life for me. My injuries were among the worst of the worst at the time, and I was easily the most severely wounded serviceman at Walter Reed during my stay. A lot of people don’t see the grit and major effort that takes place in the hospital and how life is changed afterwards. They usually just see the photos, but those don’t tell the daily story veterans face.
When I left the hospital I was healed by medical terms, but my limbs won’t be coming back. From the moment I wake up in the morning I deal with the effects of September 11, 2004. The little things I once took for granted have become a luxury that I’ll never have. Imagine doing everything everyday one handed, oh and use your non dominant hand. I challenge you to shave this way or get dressed and button your shirts or zip zippers. Now imagine doing that with no legs, and examine your entire daily routine; it’s no easy task, everyday can be a struggle but patience is virtue.
Being able to adapt allowed me to overcome the physical limitations which then gave me the keys to be live a happy life again, one that’s filled with more joy than my previous life. I say previous because it’s nowhere close to the life I live now; it feels like that life was just a dream.
September 11, 2004 is my alive day, I say this because it’s the day I was given a second chance at life. By all accounts I should have died that day. What happened to me is equivalent to being shot by a tank round and surviving. I’m not sure if anyone has survived a 107mm rocket point blank explosion, I’ve only heard the horrific stories from others who’ve cleaned up the carnage after these kinds of attacks.
For these reasons I can say the day I was injured was probably the luckiest day of my life, I survived. Every medical expert expected me to die, even up to 2 months later, but I didn’t.
Being rational and open to everything allowed me to move on completely. Weeks after waking up at Walter Reed, I didn’t care about what happened, or the fact that I had no legs. I told myself I wasn’t going to let some terrorist determine how I lived my life. I was 22 years old at the time and had a full life ahead me. Being upset would be an injustice to those paid the ultimate sacrifice and died, I was the lucky one who was spared.
Next time you see a Purple Heart license plate think of the story which that medal tells, it’s not a fashion statement and it’s not something you seek to get. Every stolen valor case involving a Purple Heart medal infuriates me, and Americans need to be educated on what this medal is about. There are no perks that come with it, other than honor, and never tell a recipient how cool it is that they won a Purple Heart.