GERMANY (WIS) - Injured soldiers in Germany and aboard the C-17 told WIS' Craig Melvin the things that struck them most about war. We've shared those in the first two segments of this series. In this segment, some of the things that struck the WIS crew the most about the Wounded Warriors.
Lance Corporal Abe Herling made Craig cry. Herling nearly died himself. When the IED went off, he was just a couple of hundred feet away. He showed Craig a souvenir from the blast. "It's a pretty big piece. Doctor said it's the biggest piece he's ever seen come out of someone's face."
He keeps it with him as a reminder. He says, "It's pretty cool, I think."
He didn't cry describing how he dodged death, but remembering his friend sent tears down the 21-year-old's face, and a few down Craig's too. "It was too bad that he died, you know, hurts, you know. Everybody liked him. He was a good guy. He was a good Marine. I liked him a lot. I miss him."
That was about the only time any of the wounded soldiers cried or choked up when they talked about someone they knew who died or who someone who was close.
Craig wondered if the smiles and laughs were a mask. And when you ask them if they've become desensitized to seeing pain and death everyday, literally all of them said no.
The same things that got to the WIS crew got to them. They've just gotten used to it.
For example, a 22-year-old shot in the abdomen two days ago flew with his chest wide-open. Craig couldn't believe he was alive, much less flying. And while no one left his side the entire ten hour flight, Craig wondered how the doctor and nurses could just smile and laugh as they tended to him.
Craig wondered if his parents knew how bad it was and when he would emerge from the medically-induced coma. He couldn't even vote when the War on Terror or the War in Iraq began. He just turned 22.
Many of the injured soldiers are young, and so many with injuries so severe they can't walk. On the return flight to the United States from Germany, of the 43 soldiers on the flight, 22 were on stretchers.
One the first images the WIS crew saw when they landed in Germany was the sea of empty stretchers.
From then on, that's what they'd see everyday - at the hospital, in the air, and on the ground in Washington, D.C., soldiers on stretchers.
But they saw just as many smiles as stretchers - smiles on the faces of those fighting and those fixing the fighters.
Even Ron smiled. He showed Craig pictures he snapped moments before the blast that rattled his brain so badly he can't explain the pictures.
Ron made Craig cry too. His life will never be the same and neither will any of the other people who return wounded from war.
All won't have visible injuries. Some, like Ron, will have the injuries you can't see like traumatic brain injury. But every injured soldier has seen or lost something that forever changes them.
While the war has become the dominant political issue stateside, on the battlefields of Afghanistan and especially Iraq, it's about loyalty - not necessarily to the mission, but their fellow soldiers. War creates an incomprehensible bond.
There's lots of uncertainty about what's next for the war and treatment for the soldiers who return. One thing is for sure. As long as the war continues in Afghanistan and especially Iraq, we're going to continue seeing wounded warriors. Many will be on stretchers and just as many will probably be smiling.
Reported by Craig Melvin