Posted on November 3rd, 2014
“Just because I’m blind doesn’t mean I don’t have vision. I believe God kept me alive for a reason, and that’s to tell my story.”
So says Marine Corporal Matthew Bradford — the first blinded amputee in history to re-enlist in the Corps.
Matt’s story begins in Petersburg, Virginia, where he was born; and in Winchester, Kentucky, where he was raised. He was always interested in sports, playing baseball until he was 13 and starting with basketball during his freshman year of high school.
In the summer before his sophomore year in high school, Matt moved back to Virginia to live with his father. He continued playing basketball, and also played tennis—he was the number-one seed in both singles and doubles during his junior and senior years—and varsity football.
In December 2004, while he was a senior in high school, Matt joined the Marines’ delayed entry program. “The reason I joined was September 11, 2001,” he explains. “I remember the exact place I was and who told me, and from that moment on I had one thing on my mind—that I was going to defend our freedoms that were threatened that day. I wanted to deploy and proudly defend our country and the freedoms that we all love.”
Matt served and deployed with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, Echo Company, 2nd Platoon 2nd Squad. “We were stationed in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. I served with this unit from March 2006 until the day I was injured. We were deployed to Haditha, Iraq, in the Al Anbar Province from September 2006 until January 18, 2007, when I was severely injured on a foot patrol.
“I called home that day,” Matt continues, recalling the day of his injury. “I called my uncle to talk to him, I was two months from wrapping up the deployment.”
“I remember walking down the street—the road was called Park Place, it ran parallel to the Euphrates River to my left—and the compound wall, about seven feet tall, was to my right. There was an opening with a bunch of palm trees, and off to the right there’s a white bag lying up against a tree. I point out something suspicious, I turn around, and there was a ditch along the wall that ended in a pipe. I looked down and saw the wires. I was standing right on top of it.”
“Instantly [the improvised explosive device] sent shrapnel into both my eyes and took my left leg,” Matt continues. “The blast put me in a coma for three weeks. I was injured on the 18th and I was [at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center] in Bethesda on the 21st. I got my Purple Heart on Valentine’s Day.”
Matt left Bethesda on March 21 and went to the VA trauma center in Richmond, Virginia, where he did occupational therapy and speech therapy. He returned to Bethesda on Memorial Day and got his prosthetic eye, and finally stood up on his prosthetic legs for the first time on June 27, 2007. “It felt weird,” he says. “You wanna walk faster than the legs are letting you.”
The Semper Fi Fund began assisting Matt when he was recovering in Bethesda, providing several family support and vehicle grants—and a grant to help this avid hunter and outdoorsman obtain a special scope for his gun that enables him to go on hunting trips with veterans groups. “I got the biggest buck in the Warrior Hunt this year!” Matt says with pride.
“The Semper Fi Fund is a great non-profit organization,” Matt says. “They help with vehicles, they can help with putting you on a team so you can do things you didn’t think you can do—they give you the opportunity to live your life freely, without any limitations.”
Matt was promoted to Corporal on April 1, 2010, and re-enlisted six days later, on April 7—he’s the first blinded amputee in Marine Corps history to re-enlist. This father of a 2-1/2 year old daughter and two step-children was recently accepted into the University of Kentucky, where he will study communications in the hopes of breaking into the world of sports broadcasting and someday hosting his own radio show.
“Just ‘cause you’re injured doesn’t mean you give up on yourself,” Matt says. “There’s many things in this world you can still get out and do. You’re alive for a reason. Never quit.”
UPDATE (October 2016): Matt recently finished the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC on October 30. It was his sixth time participating — and he’s completed the 26.2-mile course each time.
“Since my story was first presented on the Semper Fi Fund website,” Matt tells us, “I have completed three half marathons, increasing my total to four halfs. I completed two Spartan races, with a third one coming up at Fenway Park in Boston on November 12.”
“The one thing that I focus on while participating in the Marine Corps Marathon, or any other events,” he continues, “is my brothers that I served with during my deployment. I think about the brothers that I lost and I know they are giving me added strength and drive to help me push on when things get tough.”
“I do these races not for publicity,” he adds, “but to prove to myself that no matter what injury or circumstance, this visually impaired, double amputee can accomplish all!”
Matt’s accomplishing plenty off the athletic scene, too: In May, he’ll be graduating from the University of Kentucky with multiple degrees in Media Arts and Studies and History. He’s also done several speaking engagements over the last few years.
“My daily motivation is to wake up every day and accomplish the unthinkable,” he says. “My objective is to keep climbing that mountain — and the one thing that I believe is that God kept me alive to inspire people. I feel like it’s a job well done if I can inspire at least one person per day.”