The military initially told Spc. Johnny Jones’ family that although he had suffered a skull injury, he was responsive.
But when his wife, Laura, and parents saw him for the first time at Bethesda Naval Hospital near Washington, he was in a coma. The Derby man was still coated with dried blood, and his head was so swollen they couldn’t see his neck.
“That cannot be my son!” his mother, Judy, gasped. Later Jones tearfully told her, “Mom, I lied to you. I told you I was going to come home safe.”
Surgeons rebuilt his skull with a piece of specially designed acrylic.
Jones moved his family to Arkansas where his parents live. He works at the Guard armory in Ozark, but hopes to return to Kansas and study computers.
Doctors call his prognosis excellent. He has some short-term memory loss, but jokes that his life is like the film “50 First Dates,” where someone awakens every day without any memory of what happened the day before.
His memory of driving the doomed Humvee stops after the first EFP roadside bomb went off near the vehicle just ahead of his. He didn’t learn until a month later that his friend Berry didn’t survive.Sgt. Michael Miller
Sgt. Michael Miller has undergone eight surgeries to repair his leg, injured by shrapnel in the mortar attack. The steelworker from Lancaster also has a mild case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Once home, the war continued inside his head. One time it took him several seconds to realize he had been driving down the middle of the road. Soldiers don’t share the road in Iraq. It can get you killed.
When he arrived at the military hospital in Germany from Iraq, it was to a warm greeting. And when he flew back to the States, the VFW was at the air base “and all kinds of people shaking your hand.” Yet after his hospital stay, he landed at Fort Riley, “it was just like … nothing.” Miller walked off the runway alone and called his wife for a ride home. Today, he says: “Every day’s better.”Spc. Peter Richert
Spc. Peter Richert, the college runner, was angry at first, but then decided:
“I’m human. This sucks. But I’ll kick myself in the butt and go have a normal life.”
He spent most of this year in therapy at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, joined by his wife and young daughter.
He was fitted for a prosthesis and had a second version built — for running.
They’ve moved back to Hillsboro, where Richert is surrounded by family.
He’s training again on the track at nearby Tabor College. He plans to enroll next year and rejoin the track team.Staff Sgt. Jerrod Hays
Staff Sgt. Jerrod Hays “had injuries that 10 years ago were unsurvivable,” said George Coppit, a head and neck surgeon at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
The explosions destroyed part of his jaw, scattering bone fragments throughout his mouth and throat. He also lost all of his bottom teeth and suffered heart damage.
Given a titanium jaw, he’s back at Walter Reed for surgery on his eyes. Another year of repairs to his face awaits.
Hays hopes to return to his job as a supervisor at the foundry in Norwich, where he worked alongside Berry. The Farrar Corp. has said he will be welcomed back.
His wounds didn’t alter his puckish sense of humor. After Coppit asked for a photograph to see how his patient used to look, Hays sent him a picture of Pee-Wee Herman. His wife, Nancy, said that his upbeat outlook is what’s helped the most.
Still, he often wonders: “How come I was picked and lived?”Spc. Curtis Turpin
The mortar shrapnel wound in Spc. Curtis Turpin’s abdomen has healed, but he has been back to Walter Reed several times for treatment for traumatic brain injury. He has short-term memory problems and gets confused by too much information. But he’s improving.
“I couldn’t remember two things walking from one end of the hospital to the other when I started,” he said. Turpin has a business degree and has worked as a janitor and a truck driver, but wants to study computers.
His wife, Jennifer, watches him tenderly. “Sometimes we overlook the guys who are walking around,” she said. “Their scars are hidden.”Sgt. 1st Class Lloyde Mattix
Sgt. 1st Class Lloyde Mattix has recovered from shrapnel wounds to his hip and leg. An electrician in Clearwater, he captures as well as anyone the courage, fatalism and unvarnished patriotism that defined Bravo.
Mattix said that back in October 2005 when Bravo deployed, “If I would have jumped up and said, ‘Hey, there’s a chance somebody could get hurt,’ I don’t think I would have heard anyone, including Sgt. Berry, say, ‘Wait. I want out.’
“Soldiers want to do this, and they understand the consequences. I understood.”Staff Sgt. Mike Seefeld
Staff Sgt. Mike Seefeld received the Bronze Star with valor for his actions that night. A member of the Wisconsin National Guard, he hooked up with Bravo in Iraq because they had a spot. “Never worked with a better unit,” he said.
“I re-live the night every day at one time or another, awake or sleeping, always playing the ‘what-if’ and ‘but-if’ game,” he wrote to one of the families.Spc. Amanda Kistler
Spc. Amanda Kistler, the medic with the Minnesota Guard unit, won the Army Commendation Medal with valor for her actions. Now she’s back in college majoring in biopsychology.Sgt. Nathan Reed
Sgt. Nathan Reed won the Commendation Medal for valor that night. The Arkansas man is trying to cope with traumatic brain injury and a back injury resulting from the shock of the first bomb slamming into his Humvee.Spc. Travis Waltner
Spc. Travis Waltner had another close call exactly a month after the Feb. 22 attack. A rocket-propelled grenade nearly hit the convoy his patrol was shadowing.
“I think I did my share,” said the railroad worker in Wichita.Spc. Tyler Wing and Spc. Sean Wing
Spc. Tyler Wing (left) is working at the Kingman armory. He intends to go back to school next year. His brother Spc. Sean Wing plans to study mechanics at the Wichita Area Technical College in the spring. Treasa Wing, their mother, said her sons have changed in subtle ways. They tend to avoid crowds and don’t stray too far from home.
“From the time they’re born, you make everything better,” she said. “This is something I can’t make better. I think that’s been the hardest thing. I can’t fix any of this. All I can do is be there for them.”Spc. John Duncan
Spc. John Duncan went back to the University of Kansas, where he’s a sophomore and is studying Japanese.