Wounded Vets Battle At Home

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The soldiers of Charlie Company, of the Florida National Guard's 1st Battalion, came home from Iraq last weekend.

The men spent an entire year overseas. As they entered the armory in North Miami, every soldier shook hands with a quiet man in a sergeant's dress uniform.

In the euphoric bedlam of family celebrations, Sgt. John Quincy Adams was a reminder of the war's toll. He too is a member of Charlie Company, but he came home last summer - with shrapnel in his head. As Adams reconnected with his men, they had to lean in close to catch his halting words.

"So how you feeling?" one soldier asked Adams.

"Pretty good," responded the sergeant.

CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston reports Adams was on patrol in Iraq with Charlie Company last August, when a remote-control bomb exploded next to his Humvee.

"We thought he was dead, because he was slumped over. He was sitting on the passenger side, he was slumped over on the radio," says Pvt. Emmanuel Jean-Pierre.

The bomb blew shrapnel into Adams' skull and right arm. His speech, his movements and sometimes even his thoughts are now difficult. But he can still smile.

"Only thing I remember is someone tell me I was going home," says Adams.

Asked how he felt about that, Adams had a simple response:

"I have no idea," he says.

In contrast, Spc. Luis Calderon, of the Army's 4th Infantry Division, remembers exactly what happened to him.

Calderon was driving a tank last May. He was ordered to knock over a wall with a mural of Saddamm Hussein. Part of the wall fell through the tank's open hatch and onto his head.

"When they pulled the wall out of the tank, my neck went like this [makes a pop sound] and then I broke my spinal cord," says Calderon.

Calderon was left a quadriplegic. Life changed forever for him and his wife, Darlene.

Darlene says she was a little angry "at the fact that he left so healthy and came back destroyed."

Luis Calderon and John Quincy Adams - two of more than 3,200 Americans injured in the line of duty this past year in Iraq. Their survival underscores a profound change when compared to casualties of previous wars.

In Iraq, there is a ratio of almost six wounded for every one of the more than 550 Americans who have died.

In Vietnam, four soldiers were wounded for every one who died. In World War II, three were wounded for every one killed.

"Some are coming back with serious wounds - soldiers that might have died in previous wars on the battlefield - but we are able to save them today." says Anthony Principi, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Regrettably, they lose arms or legs, in some cases both. So, it's really, in one sense, quite remarkable what we've been able to do. But on the other hand, it's heartbreaking to see some of the wounds and it's a reminder how important our mission is to care for them."

Pictures taken by photographer Nina Berman, who has been documenting the returning wounded, have been published in this month's Mother Jones magazine. Each tells a story.

"Sam [Ross] was a munitions engineer," Berman says of one photo. "He was disposing of explosives and they blew up on him. Sam is blind. He lost a leg, he lost hearing in one of his ears, he has shrapnel throughout pretty much his entire body.

"[Alan Tremaine Lewis] was driving a Humvee to deliver ice to his fellow soldiers when the Humvee went over a landmine and blew off his legs and also burnt his arm and face.

"[Wasim Khan] was on guard duty in Baghdad and the guard post came under attack. He has had three skin grafts to repair his leg. He's in constant pain on painkillers like most of these guys.

Yet despite it all, Berman found a sense of optimism as she got to know the soldiers. She says they all had no regrets.

"They're proud of what they did," Berman says. "They feel like they've accomplished something."

The soldiers' recoveries echo the struggles many vets will go through.

Adams and Calderon both receive therapy at the Miami VA hospital. For now, Calderon lives there.

As he struggles to regain the use of his upper body, you can see the pain and determination on Calderon's face.

It's the same determination he had as a fullback in high school. Now his gains are measured in inches, not yards.

"Just having sensation in my fingers; just get my fingers back - my hands back - and just move them. That's my goal," Calderson says.

Adams goes to therapy three days a week, to work on his speech, his right arm and hand, where the shrapnel hit. Coordination is a problem for him. Adams has to be careful with his head because of the shrapnel still buried inside it.

Sitting in his yard in nearby Miramar is weight-training equipment he can't use, and motorcycles he can't ride.

But, Adams says he hopes one day to run and play with his children.

That day has not yet arrived. Fitting back into family routine with his wife Verlorene and their two sons has been difficult, especially with 3-year-old Christopher, his youngest son.

"It came to a point where Chris didn't want to be around him," says Verlorene Adams. "Because he felt that he wasn't his dad. He wasn't the same … [He] didn't look the same, didn't act the same, didn't talk the same. And he won't listen to him."

Adams says his goal for his family and children is "that I can run with them again, and play with them, just like I did before."

"I was going to give up," says Calderon. "My wife was my medicine to keep me there. And my dad and my mom was my motivation. So I stay strong."

His wife will have to remain his medicine for a lifetime. Calderon's mom often gives him dinner. His dad is his strongest advocate - lobbying for a purple heart, which has been denied because Luis wasn't injured while under hostile fire.

Luis will be leaving the hospital in a few weeks. He and Darlene are buying a house nearby.

"The contractor called today for the house and he got all the paperwork in," Darlene says.

And Luis hopes to go to college.

"[I want to study] Something about mechanics, about engines or designing engines," he says.

Luis and Darlene also have dreams about their family.

"We're going to be able to have children - artificial insemination," says Darlene. "But, it's going to be possible. We don't want that right now, maybe a couple of years from now. But yeah, it's going to be possible."

After six years of marriage, John and Verlorene Adams now find their relationship has grown in unexpected ways.

Verlorene explains, "He's more attached, more sensitive, more emotional."

She now understands why her husband went to Iraq.

"This is what he was paid for, to go over there to do what others can't do, what others chose not to do," says Verlorene. "They go over there to sacrifice their lives for us to give us the freedom to do what we're doing now."

Like all veterans, Sgt. John Quincy Adams, and Spc. Luis Calderon, have been through a lot. They have much further to go, but already, against all odds, much to be thankful for.

"Thank God I'm home and thank God I'm still alive," says Adams. "That's all I can say."
  • Rome Neal

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