Jeremy was a personal hero, not just because he survived an IED blast, not just because he was a tough guy, but because he made me feel like the human spirit could endure anything as long as you had the strength to say, “Fuck this, I’m going to make fucking lemonade.”
I was at the chow hall when it happened. I walked back to my room and found a note on my door that said come down to the Medevac base ASAP. I immediately assumed I was in trouble for something ( as a journalist people were constantly telling me I was in some kind of infraction against military rules) so I dragged my feet. I took a shower and brushed my hair and trudged to the base about a mile away.
I had missed the best photo op of the month. An Oregonian soldier had been injured and the Oregonian Mededvac unit I was embedded with took the news personally in a beautiful way. About 30 of the Oregon Medevac soldiers lined up in front of the hospital.
As each Medevac soldier saluted the patient rolling by one medic remarked later, “That shocked me, it’s a feeling that you can’t describe when you're walking to the ER and your Medevac Company is standing outside paying their respect to a soldier’s sacrifice. We were surprised that this had happened, but it feels good being able to help another soldier from Oregon.”
I was not allowed in the hospital so I loitered around the base wondering how I would get an interview. I did not want to be callous but I knew this would be a story for the Oregonian paper and I wanted to get something soon.
I found out that the soldier’s name was Jeremy Pierce and he had serious injuries including the loss of his leg, toes and fingers.
He was from an infantry unit and the colonel wanted his story to be told so I was allowed in the hospital room.
I found this note I wrote after meeting him:
“Jeremy’s eyes were like the last lights of the sun, gradually dimming, but they were beautiful, that drug induced deepness, the vulnerability… I don’t remember much of how else he looked. I knew he was missing pieces of himself, but his legs were covered in gauze and blankets and he was laying down and he looked strong and he was making jokes.”
It is hard to describe seeing a young man of 22 in such a wounded state and you could see that just one day ago he had been in the peak of his physical strength.
And the loss of limbs was so new to him I don’t think he was even able to register that his life would change.
I remember he was charming he asked me something like, “How are you doing?” and his eyes sparkled mischievously and I thought, “Is this guy messing with me?”
But he was the kind of guy who could flirt and joke even while lying in a hospital bed and he instantly won me over.
I asked him a few questions, but didn’t want to push him. He answered very directly about the blast and how he survived making sure to attribute his survival to his fellow soldiers. You could tell he was really loved by his unit. Someone was always by his side during his time at the hospital.
The following is from an article I wrote:
“I remember being put into the vehicle [for ground evacuation], looking at my left hand noticing that I had part of my finger missing. I knew I couldn’t stand up; my boot was in another spot. I remember wanting water.” When no one could understand what Pierce was asking for he managed to get a pen and paper and write his request.
At Balad Theater Hospital, Iraq, Pierce, surrounded by his fellow soldiers, shivers underneath a patriotic blanket. “Despite the events I wouldn’t change it for the world,” says Pierce who loves his job as a soldier, and jokes that he would like some new toes and maybe a leg.
In the afternoon of his second day at the hospital, Pierce receives a Purple Heart decoration for his injuries sustained during combat. The specialist already has a bronze star with valor on his last deployment for receiving enemy contact and exchanging fire. Pierce finished his deployment in Iraq with the Alaskan National Guard in 2008 and jumped on the next deployment with Oregon. “I am proud to be part of the Oregon National Guard,” says Pierce.
“But you can’t really prepare yourself for this,” Pierce add, his bright green eyes illuminated by the fluorescent lights. “I knew what I was getting into.”
I told Jeremy I would send him a copy of the story and I never did. I guess I figured he would have read it online, but it bothers me that I did not fulfill that one task and I ask myself, “Why, why did I not just send it?” But this story is not really about me is it?
I thought about Jeremy a lot but I knew that if anyone was going to survive this war it was him and perhaps that was a selfish thought. I had no idea what he was enduring in the aftermath of Iraq. I just remembered his strength in the hospital room and I wanted him to be okay because if he was not okay than none of us would be okay.
So when I heard that he was killed in a car crash, it stunned me and the loss of his courageous heart struck me as such a crime agains the human spirit. I still grieve that loss even though he was really a stranger to me.
A fellow solider told me “The kid’s got heart, got spirit,” those are the words that I can never forget.