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October 31, 2009

For Marines, Uncommon Valor Still a Common Virtue

Jules Crittenden offers an inspiring glimpse into a battle waged far from Afghanistan and Iraq:

What does it mean to be a Marine when you are one of the maimed at Walter Reed on Veterans Day?

“Everything,” Cpl. Peter Bagarella, 21, of Falmouth said simply.

Theirs is the story of service and sacrifice behind the statistics.

“This place is awesome. They gave me my eyes back,” said Bagarella. A remotely detonated bomb blinded him and vaporized his left leg in a palm grove in Haditha on Aug. 12. As the Iraqi ambushers opened up with machine guns and the Marines returned fire, Bagarella screamed, “Oh God! Oh God!” and used his thumbs to count his fingers. He asked the medics, “What’s gone? What’s gone on my body?”

Army PFC Paul Skarinka’s shattered left leg is caged in a cumbersome brace, with metal pins screwed through the flesh into his calf bone.

“I’m one of those people who likes to be in the middle of things,” said Skarinka, 24, of Whitman. “I knew I could end up being deployed. I had no problem with that.”

He has fond memories of Baghdad - visits with local elders, giving kids candy and being asked to stay for dinner at wedding parties.

Then in late August, they moved into Sadr City against rogue cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

“After evening prayers is when they would come out,” Skarinka said. In the early morning hours of Sept. 13, the night’s business was mostly done when an RPG came screaming up the alley.

“It looked like an oversized bottle rocket flying at us,” he said. It hit as he dove for cover. “There was debris around me. My ears were ringing. I thought, `This is OK.’ It was kind of normal. It was when I tried to get up that I realized something was wrong.” He couldn’t move his left leg or arm. He felt the blood pouring out of his side.

“I was thinking, `I’ve got to get out of here. I’m still in the kill zone. I’m not dying in this crappy alley in Sadr City.”

There are many kinds of bravery.

We hear most about the bravery of battle, when the adrenaline is pumping and soldiers are fighting just to stay alive. We rarely thing about the incredible courage and strength needed to sit up for the first time despite searing pain, to stand, to take those few wobbly steps...

mi Former Marine Gene Roberts.jpg ... or, against all odds, to run again:

Gene Roberts is a former Marine with a big heart – and an even bigger goal: to run more than 3,500 miles across the United States on prosthetic legs.

Roberts is a double amputee who served in the Vietnam War until he stepped on a land mine in Da Nang in 1966. He is in the process of running across America to inspire other war veterans and raise money for his favorite charities.

...When he was participating in wheel chair races, he participated in races in Indiana and Maryland. When he decided to swim, he trained at the Druid Hill Park Pool one year and in his back yard pool another. He attempted to swim the English Channel on three occasions and was defeated by cold water on one and the weather on the two other attempts. After the last swim, Gene decided to return to his first love, running. He trained hard and finally entered the Baltimore Marathon. Gene finished the marathon and said, “ It wasn’t pretty, but I finished.” The next year he entered the 5K portion of the Baltimore Marathon and was quite successful. Gene now runs in several 5K runs because he just loves to run. His goal now is to run across the United States to raise money for the poor and the needy and a couple of his other favorite charities.

Part of what Valour IT seeks to accomplish is the return of hope. These wounded vets don't need a handout, but seeing what they can accomplish with a small hand up is inspiring. Triple amputee and Valour IT laptop recipient Sgt. Bryan Anderson would be the first to agree that recovering vets are limited only by their will and imagination:

I've been wakeboarding, water-skiing, jet-skiing, tubing, rock climbing, snow skiing, playing catch with my brother. I try to do the same things. I'm not going to let it stop me. We did a 110-mile bike ride from Gettysburg to Washington, D. C. Sixty miles the first day, fifty miles the second day. Hand cycle, three wheels. I ended up ripping the glove, breaking the hand, breaking the whole socket. I might do it a little differently, but I'm still going to do it...

He knows who he is:

This doesn't define me. It may be how I look on the outside, but it's not who I am. I guess you could remember me easily as being a triple amputee, but it's not who I am, has nothing to do with who I am. I've always been the same person.

These guys aren't helpless victims. They're warriors. Survivors. And the first thing many of them do once they've escaped the halls of Walter Reed or Bethesda is to give something back.

During the past year, we as a nation have invested billions of dollars in sickly, failing companies with a never ending supply of excuses. It's hard to think of a better investment than the one you can make with your Valour IT donation.

100% of your donation will go towards helping wounded vets fight the longest of long wars. Selfless dedication, courage, commitment, grit. These are the qualities that define wounded vets. Won't you show them that America still honors men who accept no excuses?

Posted by Cassandra at October 31, 2009 11:15 AM

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Great post, ma'am.

Posted by: OldSoldier54 at November 1, 2009 06:09 PM