J.R. Martinez's audacious story of survival
PENTAGON - CBS News national security correspondent David Martin first met J.R. Martinez in 2003, seven months after his Humvee hit a landmine on the road to Baghdad.
"40 percent of my body was burned," Martinez said at the time. "They say 32-34 percent of it was third degree."
The first thing he saw when he came to in the burn unit was his mother. But then the once-handsome 21-year-old had to confront himself in the mirror.
"The first time I seen my face, it was pretty hard," Martinez said. "The doctors didn't want to let me do it yet, but I said I've got to get strong, and I've got to learn how to deal with it."
"You must see people when they look at your scars," Martin said.
"Yes, I do," Martinez replied.
"The double-take, or they look away," Martin asked.
"Yea, it's happened a lot," Martinez said. "I would just say to myself, 'I know why I look like this, and you don't.'"
When he sat for the CBS News interview, Martin had been through 22 surgeries and had many, many more to go to reconstruct his face.
"I've seen pictures of what things can turn out to be, and to me, it's amazing," Martinez said. "I'm like, 'Wow, I can be back to what I used to be.'"
That seemed hard to believe, but it turned out to be an understatement. Martinez became an actor on daytime television - a profession in which looks are everything. He also became a motivational speaker - a profession for which you might say he is overqualified.
Martinez struggled with his emotions while receiving an award from other war veterans in 2009. "I'm able to do the things that I do today, all of us are, because of you guys out there," Martinez told the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "So this is to all of you that wear the uniform."
Tuesday night, Martinez won the finals of "Dancing with the Stars" and gave people a whole new reason to stare - not because of his scars, but because he's a star.
- David Martin
David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.
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