9:37 | Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz describes the long road back to health after being hit with an IED blast in Iraq. Complicated surgeries and slow bureaucracies were what he faced for years, but he did find some allies in the non-profit organizations dedicated to helping wounded veterans. Part 2 of 2.
Keywords : Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Veterans Administration (VA) San Juan Puerto Rico surgery Georgetown University Hospital transplant Homes For Our Troops Semper Fi and America's Fund
Hailing from the island of Puerto Rico, Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz wanted to join the military from a very early age. Numerous relatives had served and he wanted to do the same. He was asked during processing if he wanted to attend English language school before basic training. It sounded like a good idea.
His first duty station was in Vilseck, Germany with the 1st Infantry Division. Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz connected with other Puerto Rican soldiers and was out on the town with them when he spotted a familiar face at the bar.
Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz wanted to deploy to Iraq and he got his wish. The spartan conditions were bearable, but he had a sergeant who badgered him about his English and relegated him to KP duty. Fortunately, he was able to move to another company, where he was wanted, with the help of some breakfast cereal.
While in Iraq, Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz got the idea he wanted to go to Ranger school. He began hard physical training with Rangers in his unit and one of them had an unorthodox idea. Why not provoke his platoon sergeant? (Caution: strong language.)
It was his first big firefight. When Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz stepped from his vehicle during a siege at an Iraqi police station, the battle was raging around him. This was what he signed up for. While clearing an alley, he took out some insurgents on a roof, but the remaining ones were angered and sent an RPG his way. (Caution: strong language.)
Hand to hand combat was a popular pastime in his platoon. Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz was considered the number two and a guy who outweighed him by a hundred pounds and was a foot taller was number one. That ranking changed.
Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz remembers two things from Iraq that were unrelated to combat, an Iraqi youth he was fond of and a dinner with a General.
When the vehicle hit an IED, Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz was in the doorway and took most of the blast. All he could think of as he looked down at his shattered body was how long it would take before he could get back to his buddies, but he was beginning a long road to recovery. (Caution: strong language.) Part 1 of 2.
No regrets. That's how Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz feels about his service, even though he was severely injured. The bond with the others in his unit is as strong as ever and the future looks to him to be full of opportunity.
After being an advisor in Vietnam, Freddy McFarren returned to his first love in the military, artillery. As a commander with the 82nd Airborne, he fired some of his guns in Grenada. That operation convinced him and others that the military needed to increase joint operations training.
Bill Pearson had been to Vietnam twice and returned unscathed, but the Army wasn't done putting him in danger. He was assigned as an aviation consultant to Iran, advising the Shah's air force on it's supply of American aircraft. The day he arrived, martial law was declared and it wasn't long before there were mobs outside trying to burn down the building. The embassy was no help. Escape seemed impossible.
During the Cold War, Navy pilot Wes Ruth flew many photographic and mapping missions, including a memorable one to Central and South America. He then had his first shipboard experience on board a support ship for patrol planes. For a time, this vessel was stationed near China to keep tabs on the activities of the Chinese Communists.
As a Navy pilot, Wes Ruth had a number of assignments related to photo-reconnaissance during the Cold War, including the research and development of Navy technology. He also studied the progress of our Allies in that crucial area. He then took command of a patrol squadron. His last stop before retiring was in Naval Intelligence.
His aim was to help put his sister through college. Walt Richardson scored so well on the tests that he was inducted into the Air Force. Perhaps it was the schooling he received at the school run by the mother of Chappie James, who became the first black Air Force 4-star General.
Once Bill Greinke was made the intelligence officer of a battalion in Berlin, he began to have a lot of fun playing cat and mouse with the Russians and East Germans. They would pelt the cars driving around to gather intelligence with snowballs and the occasional bottle.
His time with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood was the best time of his Army career. Bill Greinke bested a well known commander in a war game and he went on splendid maneuvers in Europe at the Fulda Gap. Then he moved on to specialized training in media and information.
For Walt Richardson, it was all about the core values of America. As one of the first black airmen to integrate the Air Force, he calls on his unique perspective to explain why America is so much greater than other nations that are so much older.
After successfully completing aircraft mechanic school, Walt Richardson joined the crew on a commanding general's B-17 in Okinawa. As the only black crew member, he had to earn respect and he did. He was also part of the honor guard when the first freely elected leaders in Japan were inaugurated.
He had been a glider pilot in the war and he was a bona fide power pilot who could fly many smaller planes. George Theis then became a flight engineer in a B-52 unit. He was in the cockpit readying for a flight when the pilot asked if he'd like to try a take-off.
When George Theis returned from occupation duty, he got married and began seeking a career in civilian aviation. The tough job market drove him back into the newly renamed Air Force. He had a good run as a flight engineer and worked on the conversion to computerized controls.
When an alert was sounded, the procedure for fighter pilot Rick Hilton was to get his aircraft fueled and wait at the end of the runway with a live nuclear weapon on board. Someone thought this was a little too much power for a fighter jock so the procedure was changed to include blocking the taxiway with a fuel truck. Then a real alert came in.
Walt Richardson was in the last all black training flight in the Air Force. His aim was to serve his three year obligation and then return to college, but he saw a musical revue put on by members of the fabled Tuskegee Airmen. They were holding open auditions and he went to showcase his fine singing voice.
Army surgeon Quinn Becker almost retired but he was selected to attend the War College. That usually meant they were grooming you for higher up. As he moved up to higher commands, he set out to modernize antiquated field medical equipment, a need he had first noticed years before.
It was a very difficult program to get into, but Marvin Cole persisted and was one of the final candidates standing to be admitted to the Army's physician assistant training program. After that, he was sent to Germany where his management ability got him noticed.
He was only four years old when Rick Hilton's uncle let him "fly" his airplane. The kid couldn't reach all the controls but he did get a deep desire to fly. He got his chance in college with the Air Force cadet program and was soon piloting jet fighters.
The 18th Field Artillery Brigade supported a lot of units during Operation Desert Storm, including the French Foreign Legion. Should the war have continued on into Baghdad? Going home was OK with Freddy McFarren. He had already been in the desert for eight months.