February 17, 2008
Below the fold is a repost of something I wrote on March 1st, 2007 and have since deleted. I have resurrected it because one of the subjects, Sergeant DJ (David) Emery is once again in need of your prayers.
Over the past year, this young man has been engaged in an extraordinary struggle to hold on to the gift of life that Sergeant Major Joseph Ellis unselfishly gave his life to ensure:
Corporal Emery spent days in a combat hospital in Baghdad before he was stable enough to move to Landstuhl.
DJ's mother, Connie, and his young wife, Leslie, were told initially that he just had shrapnel wounds to the legs. They waited for more than 2 days before they got the call -- come to Germany immediately, DJ may not make it. Today, Connie and Leslie both just shake their heads when asked to describe how DJ looked when they arrived in Germany. "He was swelled up bigger than all of us together," Connie said, adding, "his eyes were swelled open."
Over the next few weeks, DJ died on the operating table 6 times, and he received more than 300 units of blood. He had so many blood transfusions that his blood type actually changed to O positive. The doctors in Germany and Bethesda completely re-built DJ's legs, but the infection became too strong. Nearly 2 months after the attack, doctors amputated one of his legs. Two days later, they amputated the second leg.
Then, as DJ lay unconscious on the 6th floor of Bethesda Naval Medical Center, his wife Leslie was admitted to the 3rd floor -- the maternity ward. And on April 21, 2007, Carlee was born. DJ was still in and out of consciousness when his mother came in to tell him that his daughter had been born. He opened his eyes and said, "OK." Two days later, DJ really awoke for the first time, and he realized that his legs were gone. He says that he cried for a while when he found out. "It sucked," he says now.
DJ Emery, his wife, their new baby, and his mother Connie are all living together in a cramped room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center now. But DJ says that he does not regret joining the Marine Corps, or serving in Iraq. And when asked what gets him through this difficult time, he choked up and said softly, "family."
That article was written in July of last year.
I don't write about it much, I should write about it more; but the most severely wounded of our soldiers and Marines undergo a battle to recover some semblance of normal life - in some cases, just to stay alive - that makes a combat tour look like child's play.
These men and women are, in every sense of the word, heroes. The courage, honor, and integrity required for them and their families not to give in to self-pity or despair, to keep fighting, to remain strong and self-reliant in the face of overwhelming odds is truly inspiring. And they deserve our support, encouragement, and thanks; not only for their service, but for the magnificent example they provide to future generations.
You know I am not one to ask this sort of thing lightly, but please spread the word. Email this to everyone you know who might be inclined to help.
We do not always get everything we ask for, but I would ask that you lift DJ and his family up in prayer. They have beaten the odds so many times. You can send Sergeant Emery a card at:
Sgt. David Emery c/o National Naval Medical Center 3rd West 8901 Wisconsin Avenue Bethesda, Md 20889
A Distant Trumpet
Once again too many cups of coffee have flooded my veins with a heart-pounding rush of caffeine, the writer's heroin. Maybe this time, I'll be able to push past the bleakness. Somehow I can't manage to get the sneering words out of my brain:
...yawning hulk, combat-addled, lumbering, blue-eyed, big ox baby...
There is no dignity there, no grace for someone whose service should have incurred gratitude or at least some minimal respect in token of the debt we all owe him. Instead there is only a stunning disregard for someone who seems no longer useful; who can, therefore, be safely treated with casual contempt. I suppose the words were deliberately chosen to provoke anger. They succeeded, though perhaps not in the intended manner.
Interesting that in several days' worth of torrid exposes, the Post can't manage to find anything positive to say. Anything, as usual, that makes our men in uniform look like determined fighters instead of drug-addled losers. We don't want to minimize their pain, or the severity of their wounds, or the horrors of war.
We'd just like people to see how utterly magnificent they are, still, these men we call Marines. How worthy of admiration.
To do that does not glorify war. It merely recognizes the greatness of the human spirit:
Marines wounded by what the military calls improvised explosive devices often have a hard time telling a coherent story about their injuries. They remember driving away from a dusty combat outpost in Fallujah or Baghdad, then recall waking up in a hospital bed in Maryland or California or Texas.
That was the case for Lance Cpls. Josh Bleill and Eric Frazier, who last month sat beneath a scarlet Marine Corps flag at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and described their injuries.
But Cpl. Chad Watson, who sat with them, is an exception. He remembers exactly what happened about 9 a.m. Nov. 29 as he led a team of Marines in the streets of Fallujah. The team from the 1st Battalion of the 24th Marines had just searched the car and were starting to roll again.
"We didn't get more than 100 meters, and it was like I got punched in the face like 10,000 times," Watson said.
What pummeled Watson was a bomb, not a fist. The moment he looked down, he knew his life had changed forever.
"I looked at my right leg, and it was gone - completely gone," said Watson, 24, a college student from Mt. Zion, Ill. "There was a big hole under the driver's side; that's where it hit."
Watson's training took over. Despite his missing leg, the smashed bones in his left heel and ankle, a fractured vertebra, burns and shrapnel wounds to his face, arm and eye, he grabbed his weapon and struggled to get out of the Humvee to defend himself and his comrades. But he couldn't free his twisted left leg from what remained of the Humvee's floor. Marines from other vehicles came running to help.
"I remember them yelling, `Is anybody still alive?'" said Watson.
Finally, after his fellow Marines dragged him into a nearby courtyard, a Navy corpsman tied off his bleeding right leg with a tourniquet. The corpsman gently informed Watson that most of his right leg was gone.
"I was kind of like, `Yeah, no kidding, I saw that.'"
Through it all Watson - still the team leader, despite his grievous wounds - was shouting orders.
"I was actually yelling at the guys to get out of the courtyard ... because there were too many of them," and a large group was liable to draw the insurgents' fire, said Watson. "I was glad how I reacted. I acted good under pressure, and I was happy to hear that they told my parents that."
But then Marines take care of each other. And the three are still taking care of each other now:
Generally, Marines like to organize things by threes. Three Marines make a fire team, three fire teams make a squad, three squads make a company, and three line companies make a battalion.
So Watson, Frazier and Bleill have formed their own sort of rehabilitative fire team during their stay at Walter Reed. "We joke with each other, or say, `Hey, we gotta catch up with him,'" Watson said. "It makes us work that much harder."
When they're working painfully to build their upper body strength, they push each other to work even harder. When one is working on his balance on the parallel bars, the others are watching.
Marines have always taken a perverse pride in their grueling daily doses of group PT, or physical training. It binds them together. And the equation hasn't changed much just because they're wounded. Now, the initials "PT" stand for "physical therapy."
"It's the same thing, just a different setting," Watson said. "It's just a different group of guys you're with now."
Even for Marines like Schuring, who is getting rehabilitation through Beaumont Hospital near his home in Farmington Hills, Mich., thoughts of his fellow Marines in Iraq are never far away while he's sweating and groaning through painful physical therapy. Teamwork is something the former center on the Hope College football team in west Michigan has understood for a long time.
The ceramic plate in his body armor saved him from the shot to his back. His Kevlar helmet helped dissipate the shot to his head, which didn't penetrate his skull. And the bullet that hit his right thigh missed the bone.
But the one that hit his left thigh almost cost him his leg, shattering his thighbone in three up near his hip. An infection nearly did the rest until it was brought under control by antibiotics.
His doctors expect he'll make a full recovery - thanks to physical therapy sessions it would take a Marine to love.
None of the wounded men is willing to let his injuries define him. None expressed bitterness. All said they would rejoin their units tomorrow, if they could.
Schuring, whose mission was training Iraqi soldiers, was especially emphatic.
"We were doing good things there in Ramadi - I mean phenomenal things," Schuring said. "The Iraqi army, the soldiers, they're the Iraqi heroes. They're not the best soldiers in the world, but they're trying."
The wounded men have had time while convalescing to process their experiences. They've met cabinet members and generals and members of Congress. Some have gone to the Super Bowl, and Watson was personally introduced to his baseball heroes, the St. Louis Cardinals, by the president of the United States.
But that's all gravy. It's everyday life that's a gift to these survivors.
"This puts everything into perspective," Lockwood said. "You get blown up, and all of a sudden the type of rims you have on your car, that doesn't mean anything. Your family, your friends, that's the stuff that's important. That's what keeps you going."
Perspective can be difficult, on the other hand, when you get news like this:
Marine Corporal David Emery Jr. of the Battalion Landing Team of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit was serving in Iraq. David, aka "DJ", graduated high school in 2003. He is married to the beautiful lass in the above photo, Leslie, and she is pregnant. DJ's unit was extended past their rotation date of January 1st and he was hoping to make it home in time for his child's birth.
On February 7th, 2007, DJ was at a checkpoint near a crowded place when a terrorist walked up to the Marines. DJ's Battalion Sergeant Major, Joseph Ellis (a recon Marine of 23 years), suspected that a bomber was approaching and put himself between the bomber and his Marines.
The bomber quickly detonated himself, instantly killing Sergeant Major Ellis. The Sergeant Major's sacrifice absorbed enough of the blast to barely keep DJ from being killed. DJ was hit hard in his abdomen - an artery was cut causing kidney failure - both legs and one arm were shattered, and, in fact, his wounds were so severe that doctors didn't think that he'd make it. They had him on a respirator, fighting infection, fever, kidney failure and other problems for a time before he stabilized enough (just barely) to make the flight to Germany where his parents and wife met him. While still unconscious, his family kept telling him to fight. Then, on the 18th, DJ was strong enough to make the trip from Germany to the US (Bethesda).
DJ had a tough surgery yesterday. His prognosis is hour to hour so prayers at anytime are needed.
As always, the military family is rallying around their own. Matt has more on how you can help Leslie and DJ. MaryAnn has lots more information on DJ and Sgt. Major Ellis, and Fuzzybear Lioness also has a beautiful post on the Sergeant Major:
[He] was always "healthy and alive," a perfectionist in what he did and who made anything seem possible. "I always thought he wouldn't be one of those people who wouldn't come home," Rachael Ellis, 20, said Monday. "In my eyes, he was superman."
...With additional education, Ellis could have moved up even further, Rachael said, but as an officer, he wouldn't have been as hands-on. She said all three of his tours of duty to Iraq weren't mandatory; he volunteered.
"He just wanted to make a difference," she said. "Anytime he was asked to go somewhere, even times when he didn't have to, he would. He wanted to be there for his troops."
DJ's father has the last word:
"I think of him as a hero," David Emery said of Ellis, a 40-year-old Marine from Ashland, Ohio. "He saw [the suicide bomber] pushing his way through the crowd. He moved to get this guy and probably saved my son's life."
As they handed that folded flag to Joe Ellis' wife, I wonder what was going through her mind?
There are so many things we fear, we who remain behind. Mostly, we manage to put those thoughts out of our minds and go on with our daily lives. But they are never far from us.
They hover in the back of our minds, circling slowly like fireflies on a summer evening until, unbidden, one alights every now and then in an unguarded moment in our consciousness. Perhaps when we're driving the car at sunset and our minds wander aimlessly, or when that sappy country song comes on the radio. Why do they continue to fight when so many in this country appear willing to have given up on everything we believe in?
What kind of nation plays foolish games with the lives of its soldiers, calling for war one moment and the next claiming they were deceived? One moment calling for troop withdrawals and the next saying we need to attack?
Where do these men, these Marines, get the strength to continue to defend such a people?
There are so many things I do not understand. But in the end, it does not matter that I understand them. It only matters to me that my husband understands them, and as long as he does that is enough for me. All I know is that, like so many others, he hears a distant trumpet calling him to faraway places.
And all I know is what I hear echoing in my ears. I imagine every Marine wife hears something quite similar in the silent hours of the night. I imagine Joe Ellis' wife hears it still, and Leslie Emery.
How can we help but love such men?
I'll be yours until the sun doesn't shine
Till time stands still
Until the winds don't blow
When today is just a memory to me
I'll still be loving
I'll still be loving you
I'll still be loving you...
Update: I should have known! HF6 is all over this :p
You have to get up very early in the morning to beat those Army broads.
Posted by Cassandra at February 17, 2008 12:45 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Right there with you. Prayers are being said.
Posted by: HomefrontSix at February 17, 2008 02:42 PM
Thanks for this info, Cass! I've been keeping DJ and his beautiful family (and brothers in the Corps) in my prayers for almost a year now! That photo over at Blackfive still brings tears to my eyes. Magnificent is the perfect adjective! I am in awe of all of you volunteers!!
Posted by: UpNorthLurkin at February 18, 2008 03:13 PM
Prayer is something that I can do pretty well.
Posted by: Cricket at February 19, 2008 08:57 AM
Thanks, guys :)
Posted by: Cassandra at February 20, 2008 05:27 PM
Long time since the Vietnam Vets for Truth rally... I too am disgusted by the WaPo's portrayal of our guys and their families. I e-mailed the reporter the following...my blood pressure is still elevated, so it's not as elegant as it might have been:
"As a journalist and a Marine wife, I'm saddened at your less than respectful rendition of our wounded and their families. They are a diverse group handling their injuries in the best way they know how, yet you hang adjectives like "combat addled" and "yawning hulk" on them and portray them in the worst light. Hint: You could go to any hospital in the U.S. and do the same thing with sick CEOs -- that is, make them look like freaks. I've been in the shoes of these families, and can say without question that you did these people NO service, though in your insipid little hearts, I'm sure you think you wrote an award-winning piece. Learn RESPECT, at some point, and please try and give these families just an iota before next time portraying them in the worst possible light. Did you learn NOTHING in your "100-plus" hours from these people that might have caused you to write something that would inspire, rather than repell? I guess not. How sad for all of us. P.S. You could have written the same piece about any of the Marines or sailors at Bethesda during the four months my husband was there with a brain tumor in 1988, except that there was no war causing the guys' injuries. Hang around long enough when people are sick and at their worst, and you'll see a little of everything...you all don't even recognize that. The problems that exist with disability ratings and red tape have existed for decades, yet it seems it's only fashionable to report on them when there's an "unpopular" war going on."
Posted by: Laura A. at February 24, 2008 03:03 PM
Growing up with military medicine, I can attest to that. None of these problems are new. The only thing that is 'newfound' is Dana Priest's newfound "concern", which is only as deep as her desire to injure the present administration. There are some real problems that need to be solved, but then there have always been problems arising from fighting wars. The WaPo would like to stop the use of military force - that's their answer. Maybe when our enemies are the only ones who use military force, they'll be satisfied.
Who can figure out what the hell they're thinking? If we sit back and don't take pre-emptive action to prevent attacks, it's "Why didn't they keep us safe!!!" Yet if we act after the fact, it's endless second guessing, "our civil rights are vanishing" and 'violence never solves anything". They have no plan, but they don't want anyone else to have one either. They just want to complain regardless of the result.
It doesn't make any sense to me.
Posted by: Cassandra at February 24, 2008 05:47 PM
I am here to share something,yes something of time.Time of prayer to all veterans who unselfishly give of thereselves for others to live in that not seen or held or touch but one knows if it is taken away FREEDOM.How priceless it is an those who honor the word and all of its meaning.yes the Veterans know deep in their heart the trueness of it all FREEDOM.I asked this day before the Great and ALmighty God giver of life to heal those who have been injured. I asked with all humility to touch and mend them all and their family.I thank you for hearing this prayer dear Lord and that the light and spirit shine brightly in the Vets who are recovering with a newness of hope and love.I with all graditute thank all the veterans and other personnel who help the veterans during active and inactive combat. As a vet myself i pray always for resolve to peace and for all vets to come home whole. let them rest in the FREEDOM that they so eagerly defend....
Posted by: vet on his knees at September 17, 2008 05:59 AM