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August 04, 2005

Stepping Up

groves.jpg This is a story of two remarkable men. The first, Michael Lopez-Calderon, would almost certainly not wish me to write about him. But yesterday evening, I told him I was struggling to come up with the right angle for this post. Because I wanted to tell you about the second man: Corporal Ryan D. Groves. And I told Mr. Lopez-Calderon I would keep my promise to him - that I would not forget.

How often do we take our citizenship for granted?

How often does a foreign surname: even a beautiful one, like Lopez-Calderon, which seduces the ears like soft music from a distant saxophone on a perfumed summer evening, conjure up, not images of America-as-melting-pot, but harsher thoughts?

Like border control? Immigration laws? How this country seems, nowadays, to be overrun by "outsiders"? How often do we prejudge the newcomers in our midst without stopping to look beyond the outward packaging?

Being in the Marine Corps, writing about the war on terror as I do, I can't help but be aware of another side to the story, and I've tried to bring that side to the forefront as often as possible. I've tried to highlight how many of our Marines and soldiers are recent immigrants to this country. Many don't even have their citizenship papers as yet. And yet these young men are eager to step up to the plate. They volunteer to place their lives on the line in defense of the ideals we who have lived here for generations often take for granted. Liberty. Democracy. Decent wages. Equitable courts. The right to vote in free elections. As imperfect as our system often seems to us, these things are marvelous to them, because they don't always exist, where they came from.

Michael Lopez-Calderon, despite his beautiful surname, is not a newcomer to this country. He is as American as apple pie. He is, however, the son of Cuban immigrants. He is about my age. As I look at his bio, I see that in some ways we are very similar. We even live near each other. But what makes Mr. Lopez-Calderon stand out, in my eyes at least, is that he has chosen to befriend a wounded Marine: Corporal Ryan D. Groves. And he apparently feels so strongly about this young man that he has emailed me - several times - to ask me to help as well.

He does not know Ryan.

Ryan is not from his hometown.

But Mr. Lopez-Calderon sees a seriously-wounded veteran who needs help, and he is determined that his young man will receive the assistance he needs to put his life back together. He is determined that this Marine, who has lost one leg and is fighting to save the other, will know that his country recognizes the sacrifice he made, and is grateful.

Here is Ryan's story:

Ryan Groves, a 1999 Southeast High School graduate and former Mount Union student, joined the Marines in September of 2001, doing his basic training at Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay. Groves was in Hawaii for the first few years of his enlistment, being deployed on a ship twice. As the battalion was prepared for its third deployment, Groves and several others volunteered to go to Iraq.

Ryan says he "felt useless" with a war going on and didn't want to go back onboard ship. He was sent to Fallujah with 3rd BN, 1st Marines working security and stability operations:

“Our mission was to gain the confidence of the Iraqi people and protect them, but at the same time to search and destroy,” Groves said.

Groves said that being in Iraq had its ups and downs.

“After the first month or so of being terrified every minute of the day, you kind of get used to it. You just kind of wait for your time,” Groves said.

Three and a half months later, Groves learned that his original battalion, 1st Battalion 3rd Marines, had also been stationed in Iraq to help with cleanup in Fallujah. He went to visit them, but not everyone had arrived yet. Groves went back to visit the next day. He stopped on the side of the road inside the camp, got out of his truck and ran up to the vehicle in front to tell them what was going on. He then made his way back to his own truck.

It was the last time he would ever walk anywhere on his own two legs.

“As soon as I got back to my truck, right before I could take off my flack and helmet, the rocket attack started and the first one got me,” Groves said.

“I can’t move. I can’t stand up. I’m gonna die. I feel really tired like I want to go to sleep but I can’t cause I’ll die,” were some of the thoughts going through Groves’ mind after the attack. “All I could say was, ‘Get me to BAS (Battalion Aid Station).’”

Groves’ left leg was amputated in a Baghdad hospital, and all of the bones in his right leg were shattered by the blast. The right leg was ripped open from a couple of inches above his ankle to his mid-thigh. Due to shrapnel, the leg has contracted several infections.

Groves has endured 38 surgeries in an attempt to save his right leg. He had been released from Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland and was going to Walter Reed Hospital for therapy when his wheelchair was caught in a sewer grate. Groves fell and broke his good leg, which caused another serious infection. He is now back at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda undergoing treatments and therapy. He goes to Baltimore every day to receive hypobaric chamber treatments.

Ryan's fraternity brothers have kept in touch with him, and they've been impressed with his lack of self-pity:

“I have never heard him say, ‘Why me?’”, McCamon said. “He never says he’s mad, he says ‘I’m one of the lucky ones, I’m still alive.’”

“He (Groves) still works out and takes care of himself so well. He has one of those ‘I’m down but I’m not out’ attitudes,” McCamon said. “It’s this survivor attitude.”

“The fact that he volunteered (to go to Iraq) shows an amazing courage and strength. It’s touching that someone would leave Hawaii and volunteer to go to Iraq,” McCamon said.

Once Ryan gets out of the hospital, he plans to return to Ohio, marry, and complete school and law school. His friends have established a fund to help him get started, and Michael Lopez-Calderon is doing everything in his power to get the word out: to help Ryan's friends help him get his life back on track.

Some school children have raised $152.00 Any help you can give Corporal Groves towards achieving these goals will be greatly appreciated:

You can send donations to:

The Cpl. Ryan D. Groves Benefit Account
Home Savings Bank
142 N. Water St.
Kent, OH 44240

The contact phone number and location of Cpl. Groves's friend:

Ryan McCamon
Silver Spring, MD

Please send anything you can, no matter how small! Keep him in your prayers too. If you have any questions please email me or call me at (301) 602-1951. Thank you very much for your help.

Two men, on the surface as different as can be, but in some ways very much alike. Both have travelled a long way. Both are fiercely determined. I have a feeling both will achieve whatever they set their hearts on.

I don't normally make a practice of passing on requests like this one, but I was impressed with Mr. Lopez-Calderon's persistence and his willingness to help a young Marine who has given much for his country. And to be honest, I was a bit ashamed that I don't do more. How often could we all be doing more to say thank you, when we have men like this, who are willing to give their all to serve others?

Something to think about, when you're getting ready to drop a little weekend money on that twelvepack of beer and snacks. Maybe this weekend it could be better spent showing your appreciation for those who are stepping up to the plate for us.

Do it now.

Posted by Cassandra at August 4, 2005 08:04 AM

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