As fall begins to set in, I am quickly reminded why I hate the month of October. Ever since that fateful day of November 8th, 2002 many people’s lives have been touched, changed, or dramatically altered. Everyone that was affected shares some of the same struggles, but yet most have some way it affected them that no one else has to experience. For the last eleven years the 8th of November, and a lot of other days, has taken on a whole new meaning to me. That day I became permanently disabled while trying in vain to free SPC Jonathan Stehle. I suffered severe hypothermia and nerve damage in my legs. Even on a good day my body temperature usually is around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. I have severe difficulties standing, walking, sitting; basically everything that requires the use of my legs is dramatically affected. I even have driven left footed for years, because it causes it much pain or my leg gives out if I drive normally. I even recently totaled our car thanks to me trying to drive to “normal” way of right-footed. I know that hundreds, if not more, of lives were changed that day. I just happened to be the only one that was physically changed along with the emotional changes that also came that day. I am not looking to write this in order to receive sympathy, prayers, or even understanding. Most disabled veterans in this era can say it happened in Iraq or Afghanistan. My happened in Germany while participating in what was supposed to be a routine gunnery. It turned out to be anything but that. So why write this? This is something I have felt I have needed to write for many years. Why exactly I am not sure. Hopefully this comes out the way I would like it to.
Why do I hate October? Let me tell you just a few. I hate it when the weather cannot make up its mind. Any change in temperature that is greater than about 20 degrees causes so much pain in my legs that sometimes I have no choice but to vomit due to the intensity of it. You may be like many people whom have suggested move to a place like Arizona. Well there, if you actually research it the weather temperature changes are even more dramatic than here in Oregon. Another thing I do not like is that it is when it begins the rainy season here in the great northwest. Having been through hypothermia, if I get even slightly wet I become cold. When I am cold it takes a very long time for me to warm back up. My legs and lower body at the very least always feel severely fatigued, even when I have not done much. When I do try to do something that requires lower body strength I am pretty much useless for anywhere from a couple of days to a week. I hate having to where long-john’s from October through usually April. October and all that it is usually brings with it the nightmares and shattered pieces of my memory, put together with the information other people have had to tell me happened because I do not remember. Heck I still do not remember having to call my wife 3 days after the accident, when I woke up from basically a medically induced coma, to let her know I was actually still alive.
I will always carry Jonathan with me every day, the pain and other issues assure me of that. He is with me when my body is screaming at me to stop doing something, but my mind has to over-ride it to get anything done. He is the reason I continue to face each and every day, no matter how hard it may be. He gives me the strength not to become like some other disabled veterans, who like me have a valid reason not to do much with their lives due to physical limitations. He gave me the inner motivation when construction became too hard to physically do, to go to college and get my associates degree with a 3.9 GPA while working full time two out of the three years it took me to accomplish a two year degree. He is with me when life becomes overwhelming, with that great laugh and smile he had. He gives me a reason to be proud of not only what, a disabled veteran, but also who I am. He taught, and continues to teach me, to give everyday my best.
We all miss you Jonathan, but you are never really very far from anyone of us that was affected by that day.