Honoring Wounded Military Veterans... and Those Who Honor Them
Serving in the U.S. military is one of the greatest things anyone can do for their country.
Millions have done it through the years in different service branches. They're all heroes in my book.
But some were called upon to perform more heroic feats than others. And some performed those selfless deeds without being asked.
Today I want to share a couple of stories with you. They describe how two of our service members went above and beyond the call of duty. And how a non-service member expressed his thanks.
Corporal Jumps on Grenade
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Kyle Carpenter never thought he'd have to jump on a grenade to save a fellow Marine.
But that's the scenario that presented itself while he served in Marjah, Afghanistan. And he responded instinctively.
The explosion resulted in critical injuries. Including a number of shrapnel wounds. Carpenter also lost his right eye and many of his teeth.
He was flown back to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. There he underwent approximately 40 surgeries.
You Are Worth It Is Worth Reading
At age 29, Carpenter is the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor. And the eighth living recipient honored for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Not surprisingly, Carpenter has been thanked many times for his service. And for his heroic action. Nearly every time he has responded, "You are worth it."
It became the title of his new book. He recently discussed the book – You Are Worth It: Building a Life Worth Fighting For – with Fox News.
"Many of the lessons and perspectives that I've discussed came because I was forced to search for those silver linings during those long, dark and painful nights in the hospital," he said.
"But now I'm so thankful. I've had these incredible experiences from this bonus round that I'm living to tell people that it's about perspective. And how you look at things and that you can truly come back better and stronger than you were before. And come back smiling."
Army Specialist Loses Leg
Army Specialist Ezra Maes says that losing his leg in a freak accident is probably the best thing that ever happened to him.
While deployed to Poland last year, he was on a weeklong rotation in Slovakia. The armor crewman was serving as a loader for the main canon of an M1A2 Abrams tank.
One night he and two fellow crewmen woke up to find their tank rolling downhill at 5 miles per hour. The parking brake had failed.
They were unable to stop the tank. Once it reached 30 mph, it crashed into trees and then an embankment.
Rescue Saved His Life
All three were injured in the crash. Including one whose back was broken. Maes's right leg became lodged in the gearing under the tank.
His only escape was amputation. Losing a lot of blood, he received help in securing a tourniquet with belts.
With their one functional cellphone, they summoned rescuers. Maes was treated at a hospital in Germany. Then was flown back to the States.
The 21-year-old is currently being fitted for a long-term prosthetic leg. He'll be able to clip it on whenever he needs it.
Grateful He's Still Alive
Maes is also undergoing physical rehabilitation treatment. It's at the Center for the Intrepid in the Brooke Army Medical Center on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
Why does Maes believe losing his leg was probably the best thing that ever happened to him?
"Every day I wake up and look at it. And I remember how close I was to losing it all," he said.
"And I'm still here. I managed to survive. And this is just the scar I walked away with."
Cross-Country Tractor Ride
Many of us are thankful for the sacrifices made by soldiers such as Kyle Carpenter and Ezra Maes.
One such person is 72-year-old Florida resident C. Ivan Stoltz. He recently ended a 5,600-mile journey around the country to raise awareness for wounded veterans.
What made this trip rather remarkable is that he did it in a 1948 John Deere Model A tractor.
He was also raising awareness for Operation Second Chance. That's a nonprofit group committed to serving injured and ill veterans.
'They're Not Forgotten'
Stoltz said he chose a tractor because it draws more attention than most other vehicles would.
The journey required five months. But it was worth it, he said. Because it encouraged veterans, law enforcement and first responders that "they're not forgotten."
"There's 1 percent... who protect the 99 percent of us," he said. "I feel we have an obligation to help them so we can (continue to) be free."
Stoltz does not have a personal connection to the military. But he said he'd always taken his freedom for granted. And he did not want to do that anymore.
"We have a responsibility to help those who are willing to sacrifice for our freedom," he said.
18,000 Miles... and Counting?
The tractor trip began in Maryland in May and ended in October in Florida. It reached Montana before heading south through Wyoming, Colorado and Texas.
Most of the trip was made at about 15 miles per hour, through country towns and over back roads.
This was actually Stoltz's third tractor trip. He has now covered more than 18,000 miles and raised about $260,000 for Operation Second Chance.
He says this was his last trip. But we'll see. It's hard to keep Stoltz out of the driver's seat when he's on a mission.