My experience one Saturday afternoon at the Iwo Jima Memorial Monument made it clear that our Revolutionary War for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness changed the trade, commerce, opportunities, standard of living, and history; not just in the Western Hemisphere, but in the whole world.
When the taxi pulled up to the memorial, I told the driver to wait. I only wanted to read the plaque, take a photo and return to my hotel. As I walked around the circular drive, I noticed all of the other tourists were gathered to one side, standing off in a state of shock and awe.
I looked over and sitting in a wheelchair was a young, clean-cut man proudly wearing a gold United States Marine Corps T-shirt. His right arm had been blown off and was freshly bandaged. His left arm was also blown off, and one leg—stitched, stapled, and skin-grafted together—was also bandaged.
A solider and his wife were attending to him, preparing to take his photograph. When they were ready, the young Marine struggled to his feet, determined and quaking with more pride than I had seen in a long while. He stood tall and straight, flexed his neck, and bowed his back for the picture.
With tears streaming down our cheeks, all of the tourists reverently clapped to give this courageous young man a standing ovation. Losing strength, the Marine collapsed into his wheelchair. His friends pushed him to their car to return him to the hospital. The young Marine looked over at us, saluted, said thank you, and turned to go.
He said “Thank you”? No, Thank you!, I thought. I couldn’t hold back. I hurriedly caught up to him, and with all the love and respect I could muster, I introduced myself. I explained I was emotionally moved and inspired by what I had just experienced, told him that he was a hero, and thanked him for his sacrifice and service. He asked me what I did for a living. When I told him, he said he had read one of my books. That opened the door for me to ask him if he would share his story.
“My name is Corporal James Wright—my friends call me Eddie—United States Marine Corps, one of the few and the proud,” he said. Eddie was 28 years old with a serious girlfriend and was in his second tour of duty in Iraq when he was wounded. A tour lasts six months, with an additional month to overlap with new units arriving.
He told me he was the only Marine at Walter Reed Hospital. His friend Robert Storm, also a Marine who had served two tours in Iraq and was soon returning for another seven months, had flown out from Camp Pendleton in San Diego to visit him. Eddie’s accident happened in April. It was now May, and he was excited to be out of the hospital and in the fresh air for the first time since he left Iraq.
Eddie was in a reconnaissance battalion that patrolled at least once a day. Their job was to demonstrate a constant presence of strength and security in the toughest parts in and around Baghdad. When reports of insurgents came in, his unit would be sent to the firefight.
A patrol was usually six vehicles—all armored-up Humvees—called a platoon. Four Marines were inside each vehicle with a machine gunner on top. This particular day, they were on the west side of the city when they realized all hell was about to break loose.
The soldiers say you know an ambush is coming because the busy street suddenly goes vacant and people hurry off like rats scampering on a sinking ship.
The insurgents greatly outnumbered the marines and opened fire in what is called an “L” ambush, where they shoot from two sides. Eddie was sitting in the passenger rear seat and stuck his SAW (squad automatic weapon) outside and returned fire.
Suddenly, a rocket-propelled grenade hit his door. The huge explosion blew Corporal Eddie’s right hand off and his left arm off at the elbow. His right leg was ripped apart, destroying thigh muscle and the ability to move his right foot.
His company commander was killed, and although Eddie was gushing blood and dying, he was second in command and had the responsibility of taking charge and leading the platoon out of the firefight.
Marines fight through attacks. Because it was an “L” ambush, Eddie’s platoon had to continue toward the insurgents before they could turn around and fight their way back out. Under Eddie’s courageous and unbelievable leadership, they not only killed every one of the attacking insurgents, but they were also able to get back to base with only one dead and a few wounded.
Visualize this if you can: Eddie’s arms and part of his leg are blown off, and he still rises to the occasion because others are counting on him. While losing strength, he still yells out orders and directions to his teammates to fight the hard fight, win the battle, and return with honor.
For outstanding bravery, going beyond the call of duty, and absolute heroism, Corporal James “Eddie” Wright—United States Marine Corps, one of the few and the proud—was awarded the Bronze Star, the fourth-highest award given in the armed services and presented by President George W. Bush.
This one day made me more proud, more patriotic, and more dedicated to giving more of myself to duty, honor, country, community, schools, charity, family, and friends. I asked Eddie if he was bitter. He struggled, and again stood up out of his wheelchair on his one good but weak leg.
He looked me square in the eye, and said, “No sir, I’m not angry. But unless we stay there and finish what we went there to do, I sacrificed my body and left my arms in Baghdad for nothing! I chose to be an American soldier.
All of us currently serving in the military are volunteers who enlisted during war. We all knew what we were getting ourselves into. None of us is complaining. I wish parents like that blond lady who is organizing anti-Bush and antiwar demonstrations who lost her Marine son would shut her mouth. She’s embarrassing her dead son, who is proud he served and willingly sacrificed his life for freedom!
It’s a great feeling to believe in and be part of something that is larger than yourself! I am proud to be a Marine and honored to serve my country. If they would let me go back to Iraq, I would go in a minute to be back with my unit. I love and miss those brave men.”
We had our picture taken together and that photo is the most important photo hanging on my Wall of Fame.
Eddie’s girlfriend, Donnette, stuck by his side. They are now engaged to be married. Today he has prosthetic arms. His right leg is healing, although he will walk with a limp for the rest of his life. Eddie told me twice how lucky he was just to be alive and how thankful he was to have played a small part in bringing freedom, the right to vote, opportunity, and justice to the wonderful Iraqi people.
When I asked him what message I could deliver to the world on his behalf, Eddie looked me in the eye, choked up, gritted his teeth, and said, “Tell them to stay strong and no matter what, not to quit. Tell CNN to report only the truth. The media should not make it look like and sound like the terrorists are winning, because they aren’t. Tell the celebrities to shut up—they don’t know what they are taking about. Remind U.S. citizens that Islamic fundamentalists have vowed to kill all infidels and Americans, and that it’s better to fight them over there than in New York City, Washington, D.C., and the plains of Pennsylvania.
Remind Americans that freedom is worth dying for, so they should never take it for granted. And no matter what, we should finish the job we started, or I and every other marine, airman, sailor, and soldier who lost their limbs or lives in Iraq and Afghanistan will have done so in vain. Everybody on Earth deserves to be free—not just Americans and our coalition of friends. Our responsibility is not just to ourselves but also to the whole world. Most Iraqis I’ve met smile and wave and say, ‘God Bless America.’ I say it too: ‘God Bless America!’”
I have become friends with Eddie and Robert, and we keep in touch. Every time I see a soldier, I always stop to shake his or her hand, think of Corporal James “Eddie” Wright, and say thanks.
Having seen the pure devotion and pride this young man had in being a United States Marine and realizing his excitement to get his photograph taken in front of a World War II memorial as one of the “few and the proud,” I must pay tribute.
Let us never forget the sacrifices so many make, day after day, year after year, dealing with the bad guys in war after war so you and I can be free to enjoy our freedoms.
Let’s Make Everyday Veterans Day!