Wounded vets celebrate their "Alive Day"

SEVERNA PARK, Md. - From breakfast straight through to coloring time, the Kules household  in suburban Maryland is as full of life as any young family's. But as CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports, there is also terrible, irreplaceable loss.

"The blast took my right arm and left leg," Ryan Kules said. "Then also the two guys who were in the truck with me were lost." Kules was the only one to survive.

The attack happened in Iraq on Nov. 29, 2005 - six years ago today - when a roadside bomb hit his Humvee. "For me, it's a very bittersweet day," Kules said. "Because it's a day where I didn't die and it's a day where a few of my guys did die."

Two of his fellow soldiers, Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, were lost to their families. Kules lived to start one of his own. All three of the Kules' children were conceived after he was wounded. That's why he calls today his "Alive Day." It's a term he first heard from Jim Mayer, who had both of his legs blown off 42 years ago in Vietnam.

Jim Mayer's Aleethia Foundation
The Wounded Warrior Project, supporting vets in many ways

Watch: Becoming the "Milkshake Man"

Mayer awoke to find a pretty nurse standing by his bed. She asked what he was going to do when he got home. "If I live," Mayer said, "I'm going to have a party on every years on April 25th and I'm going to call it my alive day."

If you've read the Doonesbury comic strip, you'll know Mayer as "the milkshake man." He's been delivering them to the hospital rooms of the wounded ever since the first war in Iraq, in 1991.

Kules said Mayer brought him a milkshake ("I always requested vanilla"). Describing what the ice cream treat meant to him, Kules said, "You're at Walter Reed. You've gone through a tremendous injury and a tremendous transition period. It's a sense of just being normal again."

Mayer called the milkshakes, "An ice breaker. It's something to kid around with, learn what flavor they like and then start talking and listening."

Kules said Mayer always told them about the importance of the alive day, and joked around with his story.

"The whole concept of turning it around, and making it an alive day," Mayer said, "to a certain extent, the more severe your injuries, the more thankful that you're alive."

Was the day of the roadside bomb attack the worst day of his life? "That's a hard question," Kules said. "The injury and the things that I've done since my injury have made me who I am. And we are in a better place because of it."

Doing chores around the house and showing the sights to show his kids - that's what alive day means to Ryan Kules.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

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