By John Reilly For The Patriot Ledger - Posted Sep 22, 2010 @ 04:02 PM, Last update Sep 23, 2010 @ 11:43 AM
Quincy, MA - "On the evening of Feb. 23, 2005, seven miles southwest of Fallujah, Marine Staff Sgt. Ian LeJeune of Brentwood, N.H., was awakened by a large explosion. An explosion that was so close to where he slept that he was lifted by the force of the blast and thrown 20 feet across his 15-by-25-foot plywood hooch. "
Sgt. LeJeune was on his third deployment serving with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force when the enemy rocket detonated beside his bed and simultaneously tore up his legs and his life. He knew it was bad when he peered down and saw that his fatigues had fused to his skin.
â€œI broke both legs and severed my Achilles tendon,â€ Sgt. LeJuene told me over the phone. â€œBut the heat from the explosion was worse. I felt like I was on fire and I couldnâ€™t put it out.â€
Today, almost 20 surgeries later, Sergeant LeJeune still must occasionally trigger the spinal cord stimulator implanted in his back to get feeling back into his legs.
So, hereâ€™s a question. Since enlisting into the Marine Corp in 1998, Sgt. LeJeune has had our backs. He has stood his post unconditionally out of a sense honor and duty. And now, with all the devastation he has suffered as a result of one late-afternoon enemy attack, whoâ€™s got his back?
Wellâ€¦that answer is surprisingly simple.
Angie McCrary does.
Angie McCrary is the East Coast outreach director of the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, and her job is to watch the back of those who watch ours. The Semper Fi Fund was established in 2004 to provide support for members of the United States Armed Forces who have sacrificed in battle. Sacrifices that are horribly sever and, at times, make it difficult to assimilate back into a normal life. So someone needed to offer a hand.
â€œItâ€™s like caring for family members,â€ McCrary said. â€œWe want to provide the very best care for our injured just like we would want to do for a spouse or son or daughter.â€
â€œI donâ€™t have words to describe how grateful I am to the Semper Fi Fund,â€ Sgt LeJuene said. â€œThere is no bureaucracy. They were there from the moment I opened my eyes until the time I was back on my feet. Financially and emotionally I was rock bottom. I have four kids and I would have lost my home without them.â€
Last October, I ran the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington with my running partner, Dave Scanlon. Dave is a Marine and has run this race for the Semper Fi Fund for the past three years. I was his guest at last yearâ€™s pre-race pasta dinner. As the last of the pasta was being inhaled by a roomful of geared up runners, retired Marine Corp Four-Star General Alfred Gray quietly took the podium.
And I was struck by his words. I guess I had been expecting Jack Nicholson from "A Few Good Men" as the Purple Heart recipient approached the microphone. But what I heard was far more Nathaniel Hawthorne than Nathan R. Jessep.
This war-hardened and highly decorated 40-year veteran told a roomful of runners that he was inspired by them. And he was briefly overcome as he elucidated the support that the runners in this room were providing to our injured. And he discoursed, a great deal, about heroes. Marines who jumped on grenades to protect their brothers. Marines who lost arms and legs and eyes â€“ and inexplicably petitioned to rejoin their platoons overseas. But when you think about it, isnâ€™t that exactly what you would do. You knowâ€¦to be with your family.
On Halloween morning, 800 Semper Fi runners will line up in the starting corrals at the start of the 35th annual Marine Corp Marathon. Eighty of these runners will be injured Marines who have benefitted from the support of Angie McCrary and the Semper Fi Fund. Eighty runners who will disregard any obstacles and ignore all handicaps, and will carry on until the finish line is reached.
And I promise you this. If 80 start, 80 will finish. Because thatâ€™s what Marines do.
John Reilly is a graduate of Stonehill College and Notre Dame. A frequent contributor to Wicked Local Sharon, he lives in Sharon with his wife, daughter and son.