After the explosion, Cpl. Sebastian Gallegos awoke to see the October sun glinting through the water, an image so lovely he thought he was dreaming. Then something caught his eye, yanking him back to grim awareness: an arm, bobbing near the surface, a black hair tie wrapped around its wrist.
The elastic tie was a memento of his wife, a dime-store amulet that he wore on every patrol in Afghanistan. Now, from the depths of his mental fog, he watched it float by like driftwood on a lazy current, attached to an arm that was no longer quite attached to him.
He had been blown up, and was drowning at the bottom of an irrigation ditch.
I have read and written plenty of stories about the courage shown and the sacrifices made by our troops fighting our wars, but few have gripped my attention and my sensibilities as much as the story in today’s New York Times, the opening paragraphs of which are quoted above.
In “The Hard Road Back — A Complex Limb” and as part of a series of articles “chronicling the experiences of military veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan but continue to confront the medical and psychological scars of battle,” James Dao not only does a superb job of chronicling the excruciatingly difficult and painful road to rehabilitation of one of our heroes — one of the “more than 1,570 American service members who have had arms, legs, feet or hands amputated because of injuries in Afghanistan or Iraq” — but also of the newest and most advanced medical technology now available to try to make things right for our returning wounded warriors.
Please read here the heart-rending and heartwarming story of Marine Corporal Sebastian Gallegos, a young man who grew up in poverty in Texas, who went on to serve his country in Afghanistan, lost his arm there and whose “simple” plan for the future is:
Get out of the Marine Corps. Go to college.
Learn how to tie his shoelaces with a robotic hand.
And maybe, just maybe, become a Paralympian.
Edited to correct the first name of Cpl. Gallegos. The author regrets the error.