A Purple Heart Recipient’s Story of Strength
August 07, 2018 | 4-minute read
Ed woke up in a sweat. It was 5 a.m.
He was scheduled that day to help transport equipment and other materials through the narrow streets of Baghdad to Kirkuk military base. “I felt like I had an intuition that morning that something was gonna happen,” he remembers. “But I just didn’t know what it was.”
Seven hours later, Ed’s SUV hit a roadside bomb.
The first fragment broke his knee in three places. The next wave tore into his left side. And from there, he says everything just kind of went into surreal slow motion: The heat of the pavement underneath him. The young medic who grabbed his hand. The glass, everywhere. The thoughts of his daughter, back at home.
“During that process, my life would flash in front of me,” Ed says. “As this aid is being rendered, as this blood’s coming out, as this fuel of this vehicle is just on my back and it’s burning. And I feel this feeling of being in hell — and that, may I wake up out of this dream.
“But it wasn’t a dream. It was the fact that I’d been hit by the enemy, and my men and women would not leave me behind. … That would be an important element of who I would be in my new life as a disabled American Veteran.”
It hasn’t been easy, this new life — but time and again, through the mental and physical wounds, through the feelings of hopelessness and PTSD, Ed’s come back to that idea. Friends and fellow Service members, never leaving his side, and the power of his peers. “At the end of the day,” he says, “it is my motto: Mission first, people always.”
Ed spent 17 hours in surgery and woke up three days later being awarded the Purple Heart. He battled infections in his leg; then he underwent surgery after surgery, trying to save that leg. He spent 40 days in the ICU at Brooke Army Medical Center, his weight dropping from 190 to 118 pounds.
It is my motto: Mission first, people always.Ed, U.S. Army Veteran
Ultimately, Ed lost his leg — a moment that brought on an incredible feeling of hopelessness. He remembers staring at all the machines in his hospital room, wondering what would happen if he just turned them off.
But along the walls of his room, his mom had hung up cards, and University of Alabama memorabilia, with their crimson colors — and a picture of Jesus. “As a man of faith, I was looking at that, and I was like, ‘Wow, my faith is being tested right now,’” Ed says.
He remembers the air conditioner spitting out what appeared to be a white fog. “I thought to myself, I can’t do this to my family. I either give up, or I move on.”
That was his first night as an amputee.
The next morning, Ed remembers his mom opening the blinds.
“In San Antonio, Texas, we hadn’t seen the sun in a long time, because it had been overcast,” he says. “And the sun shined bright. It shined in that room, and it was my day to move forward in recovery. But all of those symptoms would not go away. They would carry on.”
Eventually Ed would call them “the silent wounds of war.” He faced night terrors, night sweats, and negative thoughts. But he leaned on others: a chaplain; his friend George, who would talk through posttraumatic stress with him; another friend, Eric, who would lay out what his recovery would look like.
“To me, what I gained from these other Service members who had gone through their challenges was the fact that, you know what, they’re in prosthetic legs. They’re moving on. They have the same demons in their thought processes that maybe I had. They’ve experienced negativity,” Ed says. “But now, it’s either being positive in this recovery, or being in this dark hole that I call that wound of war that you don’t want to be in.”
Seven days after losing his leg, Ed took his first step. He learned to walk on his prosthetic leg. He went skiing in Idaho and took to other adaptive sports.
On the advice of a counselor, he wrote down his thoughts along the way — thoughts of depression, or PTSD, or just how his life was changing. “This experience changed me,” he says. “And that’s what I tell a lot of Service members. … When you come back, it’s OK to say that you’ve been changed. But it’s also OK to understand who you’ve changed to. Because, as you know from your experience, you never forget.”
Ed started a foundation to provide mental, physical, and wellness support for Veterans and their families. And while the saddest day of his life came the day he learned that his military career was officially over, he’s since found his next chapter: sharing his story and helping others.
“I think part of that was that I got the chance to see a different human side in who I am,” Ed says. “And to me, that was the chance that I had been talking about and I’d been seeking out. And it was at that time where I knew that recovery was possible. It wasn’t going to be easy.
“I needed to move on. I could never give up. … I had a new purpose in life — and that was to give back.”