By John Carlson | The Star Press | TheStarPress.com | December 20, 2011
MUNCIE -- For David and Carol Williams, this Christmas' most precious gift will come through the door on crutches and one leg.
"This will be a very special Christmas," said Carol, whose son, Marine Corps Cpl. Murphy D. Hueston, lost a leg to the war in Afghanistan on Sept. 11. "We could have been a gold star family."
The gold star symbolizes the loss of a loved one's life in his or her country's service. Indeed, when Hueston set off that improvised explosive device, the 2008 Delta High School graduate faced some pretty grim odds of survival, according to his mother's research.
"Forty percent of IED casualties die," Carol said, noting 1,100 American troops were killed or injured by them this year. "Even Murphy will tell you he is very fortunate."
Discussing the hot area in which they were based, and the tough job they were assigned in fighting the Taliban, she counted off the dead and injured Marines from her son's unit on her fingers, referring to each one, name by name.
"They got the job done," she said, "but at a huge cost."
As Carol spoke, she and her husband, who is Hueston's stepfather, were seated in their living room, a small Christmas tree in a corner and a number of the Santa figures that David collects displayed on a wall. It was a homey scene, but for a more impressive one, they said, you should visit the Military Amputee Training Center where the 21-year-old Marine is being treated.
You might think such a center would be depressing, but the Williamses say just the opposite is true.
"This is where the foot meets the dust," said Carol, a nurse who is working on a doctorate in nursing practice, discussing the hard work accomplished there and the camaraderie between the patients and their families, the spirit that makes it clear nobody is alone.
As one Marine told the Williamses, "We take care of our own."
To see this spirit in action, they added, is very humbling.
"I've left there in tears," David admitted.
Throughout this experience, the Marines, family members and representatives of support groups like the Wounded Warrior Project and Semper Fi Fund have been a blessing, one that has helped carry the family through this ordeal.
"That has been huge," David continued.
Something else that has been huge is the change in Hueston's family. First and foremost, of course, has been the ongoing change in the plucky young Marine's own life as he thinks through and plans for the future encompassing his traumatic injury.
"I'm still debating on what I want to do," he said.
As for others?
"The change in our family dynamics has almost been 180," said David, who works in food service sales. Small things, and even not-so-small things that bothered them before don't now, the Williamses agreed. Also, in seeing what their brother has gone through, Hueston's siblings have come to see their own more common travails in a new, less serious light.
It's even affected Carol's father, James Slatter. A two-time Purple Heart winner from the Vietnam War, he has also beaten cancer three times, but had experienced survivor's guilt, wondering why he was spared. Now he knows it is to help in the recovery of his grandson, who has his own Purple Heart.
All these things, these feelings, have had a telling effect on the family.
"We could probably find things to complain about, but man, we can't," David said, laughing. After all, the injuries could have been much worse, they know, for the 6-foot-8 Marine who, despite his youth, was an acknowledged leader of his men.
The day he was wounded, Hueston had spent more than three hours on the mere blanket-sized patch of ground where the IED that injured him was buried. He could just as easily have been sitting on it when it exploded.
That's why, when the Williamses talk about what this Christmas will be like, they say it will equal the best ever, one on the scale of when Carol's dad was again declared cancer-free.
"It's not going to be about presents and things," David said. "It's not going to be about dinners."
What will it be about?
"The fact that we're all together," Carol said, gratefully, "and we're all OK."