What does it take to choke up retired Rear Admiral Irish Flynn?
This – recounting the tale of how a Navy SEAL, nearly mortally wounded and seriously disfigured, asked three questions of those around him when he returned to consciousness:
How are my guys? Does my wife know what happened to me?
Am I going to be just as pretty?
Lt. Jay Redman – who went through 37 surgeries to repair his facial injuries – spoke before a crowd that honored him and three other servicemen Sunday for their herculean efforts to come back from catastrophic wounds suffered on the battlefield.
The other honorees, all of whom were wounded in Afghanistan, are:
- Army Spc. Kyle Beddow, 22, who lost part of his left leg and credits surgeons with saving his other leg and left arm, said his motivation to recover is being able to teach his baby son Jordan how to be part of Little League and motocross, just as his father showed him.
- Marine Sgt. Dominic Esquibel, 41, walks with the aid of a cane after losing his heel and part of his ankle when an IED detonated. He once feared he would never be able to run again, but with the aid of an advanced orthotic device called the IDEO he can on occasion.
- Army Staff Sgt. Jason Gibson, 26, who still has at least a year of therapy ahead of him, lost both legs at the hip and is starting to learn how to walk again with prosthetics. In the meantime, he will be hand-cycling his way through the Los Angeles marathon next weekend.
The Navy Old Goats, a group of retired Naval Academy graduates with members in 17 states, hosted the event at the Coronado Community Center, with the help of the Hotel del Coronado, where the veterans stayed, and restaurants and taxi companies, which offered them free services.
The honorees were chosen with the help of Naval Medical Center San Diego, where therapists chose those honored from among the 120 servicemen whose major injuries require lengthy and rigorous rehabilitation programs.
Redman suffered his wounds five years ago and impressed many people – not just Flynn, also a SEAL, but President George W. Bush – with a sign he posted on his hospital room door urging loved ones prepared to feel sorry for him “to go elsewhere.”
His room was not a sick room, he wrote on bright orange paper, but a place for “intense, rapid regrowth.” That sign was preserved and is posted in a ward at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to lift up other Wounded Warriors.
Inspiration can spring from messages like Redman's, but for Gibson, it came from watching someone with an injury as severe as his – the complete loss of his legs – recover and leave the hospital.
“It was hard to imagine life,” Gibson said. “But then he comes in and it was like, wow.”
Now his days consist of getting accustomed to the prothetics that will enable him to walk with the aid of a walker or crutches, physical and occupational therapy. Some of the conditioning is intense, but other parts of it just include cardio and weight training.
“I call it my morning workout,” he said.