"You ought to do more stories on burn patients."
The young man speaking to me is Marine Corporal Roy Vanwey, an outpatient at the burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio. He has gorgeous brown eyes but the rest of his face is badly scarred by burns he suffered in a roadside bomb attack near the Syrian border in Iraq.
Roy wants reporters to do more stories about burn patients because he wants you to know he's still the same Roy inside, still the same 22-year-old who was loving life as a Marine when his humvee was hit by an IED last June.
"People don't know how to react when they see me," he says. "They gawk." He wishes the folks he sees at the mall or in a restaurant wouldn't turn away. He wishes they would just ask him how it happened. "I'm not afraid to talk about it," he says.
Roy suffered 3rd degree burns over 70% of his body. His head was so badly damaged his ears were burned away. Yet listen to this: "I'm blessed to be in my situation." Three others will killed in action that day, he says. "My driver, my gunner and my corpsman didn't get the second chance I got." Roy's ears are gone but he looks around and sees others missing noses.
It's hard to imagine an experience more horrible than being on fire, nor a wound more painful. Scars contract hands, arms and legs into tortured rigidity. Therapists try to soften the skin and stretch it, but as one mother told me, the scars work 24/7; they never sleep. Some of the injured lose sweat glands so they lose the ability to cool off. At the same time they lose circulation to the skin so when they're not sweltering, they're freezing.
Nearly 10% of the 23,000 troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered burns, over 500 have been treated at the burn unit at BAMC. Many have wounds that are shocking to see, but the truth is, when you spend time with these young men and women you stop seeing the scars. All you see is the beauty of the people inside.
One of four brothers who became a Marine, Roy Vanwey was hoping to go into law enforcement when he went he went back to civilian life. "I'll have to rethink that., "he says. " Now I can't be running around and kicking in doors."
Roy is not alone in his ordeal. His wife Cassie is at his side. Cassie and Roy are both from small towns south of Dallas – they met at a party. Married only a year, they seem so young, fragile even, until Cassie relates Roy telling her he couldn't understand how she could be with him when he looks like this. Cassie voice remains tender but takes on an edge of steel as she speaks her reply. "When I took those vows, baby," she says. I didn't take them lightly. This is part of my job as a wife."
For all the pain in this room, Roy and Cassie are happy with each other – and they're going to be OK.