We all gripe about our aches and pains. After hearing a story like Landi Simone’s, they quickly melt away.
Landi is the mother of Adrian Simone, who joined the Marines after graduating from Montville High School in 2010. He went to Afghanistan young and strong…and came back a “double amp.” That’s double amputee, in military hospital slang.
At a Memorial Day ceremony in Morristown on Wednesday, Adrian’s mom told a powerful story of sacrifice, devotion and love.
Patriotism, ultimately, is not about brass bands and flag-waving. It’s about 19-year-old boys who bravely carry on, after feces-covered roadside bombs blow their legs off. And it’s about the families who help make them whole again, savoring every extra minute that medicine and luck have granted them.
If you want to thank Lance Corporal Simone for his service, take a few minutes from your holiday weekend and watch this video of a grateful mother doing him proud.
Morris Freeholders honor area veterans. Please click icon below for captions; read bios here.
TRANSCRIPT OF LANDI SIMONE’S SPEECH, MAY 23, 2012:
I am not standing here because I have any special talents or skills that qualify me to inspire you. Nor do I believe I have garnered more than my share of wisdom in life. I’m standing here because, in the months since last August, I have seen things and met people who have inspired me, and Mr. Jergensen has asked me to share some of those experiences with you.
I have a new appreciation for the enormous service our troops give to each individual of this country. Forgive me, please, if my remarks have to do mostly with the Marine Corps. I honor all branches of the armed services but my own family’s experience is with the Marines.
Many of you know that my son, Adrian, chose to enter the Marine Corps right after graduating Montville High School in 2010. Becoming a Marine was an ambition he was passionate about, and he gave it his very best effort. He excelled in basic training and graduated with one promotion already under his belt.
Adrian’s testing qualified him for any job the Marine Corps had to offer but the job he wanted was Infantry. He was assigned fire team leader at School of Infantry in Camp Lejeune and was promoted to Lance Corporal right around the time he graduated. In July 2011, my son left with his unit for his first deployment – to Helmand Province, Afghanistan. A month later, on August 24, while on patrol, he stepped on an improvised explosive device and was horribly wounded.
If you are a parent of a Marine, the thing you dread most is to see a car pull up in front of your home and two Marines in their dress blues come to your door. It means your child is dead. My husband Paul and I did not have to bear that crushing grief.
Rather, we received a phone call at 5:30 am the morning of August 25th. When I picked up the phone, a man identifying himself as a Marine asked if my husband was with me and could I please put the phone on speaker. I thought I would stop breathing.
The staff sergeant read a statement describing Adrian’s injuries and telling us that he had been medevaced to a hospital in Sangin, and that he would be flown home as soon as his condition had stabilized.
He gave us a contact number and told us they would call with updates on Adrian’s condition. Paul and I held each other a long time and then went to our daughter Kira’s room to break the news to her.
That is how our family began a remarkable and very emotional journey, one which required each of us to find strength and courage we didn’t know we had –Adrian most of all– a journey that brought us closer to each other and closer to the friends and neighbors of our community, a journey that has held much pain and many tears but also, surprisingly, a large measure of hope and joy. The four of us are not the same people we were nine months ago. I think we are better.
Two weeks and three European hospitals later my husband, daughter and I stood in a fourth floor corridor of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, and watched as my son was wheeled down to his room. His first words to me were, “Mom, my legs are gone.”
Those first days at Walter Reed were rough. Adrian was heavily sedated much of the time and we were not yet sure if he would survive. He was in surgery about every other day – a total of ten surgeries – necessary to be sure every trace of infection was gone from what remained of his legs.
The doctors call these surgeries “revisions” of the amputations. IEDs result in horribly dirty wounds as soil and debris are forced into the wounds during the explosion. Some people theorize that the Taliban deliberately contaminate the bombs with feces in order to be sure the wounds fester.
The surgical team must open, clean, and remove infected flesh until the wounds are and remain healthy. Adrian’s field amputations in Afghanistan were left foot and right leg through the knee, but his final “revisions” were five inches above the knee on the right, and through the knee on the left.
Adrian was very fortunate. The infection in his right leg was a bacterial infection of a common strain, readily treated with standard antibiotics. Some of our amputees are not so lucky. Some get fungal infections or resistant strains of bacteria. The surgeons must keep cutting and hope that they are able to cut out the infection not responding to drugs. If they cannot and the “revisions” go above the pelvis to infect the internal organs that Marine or soldier will almost certainly die.
It was during this time that we began to experience the enormous community support at Walter Reed. The day after Adrian arrived, Paul and I went to the hospital cafeteria where I saw a young man carrying a lunch tray to a table. The young man had two prosthetic legs. I approached the young man and asked him about his legs. I explained that my son had just arrived with similar injuries.
The young Marine’s name was Aaron Howell. He assured me that his legs were great and he could walk just fine. He asked where Adrian was and later, he visited him. Aaron was the first double amputee I saw at Walter Reed. I didn’t know it then, but the entire fourth floor ward was full of double, triple, and quadruple amputees. The fact that no one in Bethesda thinks you’re talking about a pair of stereo speakers when you refer to a “double amp” gives you an idea of how common this type of injury is.
During this last deployment, nine Marines of Adrian’s battalion, 1/6, Hard, were killed in action. Adrian’s company, Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment – roughly 150 Marines – sustained three deaths and 10 injuries which included amputations.
Another 10 Marines in his company received other serious injuries but no loss of limb. Four of the amputees came from the same platoon of 36 Marines. That’s 11 percent!
Every room in the fourth floor ward at Walter Reed had a wounded Marine or soldier in it. So many of these were amputees that the nursing station has a teddy bear sitting on the counter with wound vacs -– standard treatment to drain fluid from amputated limbs –attached to its legs.
Many people have asked me if the government treated us well, if Adrian received good care. Those of my generation remember the days of Vietnam, when returning troops received inadequate care and little respect both from the government and from most of the population. It pleases me to report that that is NOT the case now.
My son received amazing care. He had whole teams of doctors that met and evaluated him daily – surgical teams, pain management, psychiatric teams, traumatic brain injury, nutrition. Doctors offered their cell phone numbers and told us to contact them at any time if we had questions.
At one point, Adrian had an adverse reaction to a drug. His head started itching and his face and neck turned bright red. I notified the nurse and about three minutes later, there were so many doctors and nurses in his room that we had to leave. And the Navy Corpsmen provided not only great nursing care but also plenty of joking around to keep moods light.
Later, when Adrian was well enough to start physical therapy and be fitted for prostheses, we could not be more impressed with the knowledge and experience of the PT staff, as well as the state of the art facility and equipment.
That is all as it should be – our troops deserve no less – but my family and I are nonetheless very grateful. And we cannot begin to express our gratitude to those members of our community who have undertaken fund-raising efforts for Adrian, and to the many, many people here in New Jersey who have so generously contributed to help offset expenses.
What I really want to tell you about is the Marines and soldiers and their families. It takes one kind of courage to go into a war zone with your fellows and risk your life to root out terrorists. You have been trained for this. You have the knowledge, the equipment, and your brother Marines have your back. This is your job; it’s what you do.
It takes a different kind of courage entirely to lie in a hospital bed in pain, knowing that at age 19 or 20 you’ll never walk on your own two legs again. Some have sustained pelvic injuries so severe that they will never father children. Think about the courage it takes to still smile when you find yourself in an instant transformed from a lean, mean, lethal, tattooed Marine into a helpless, maimed invalid.
Who can blame those who give in to despair? And some do. But not many. Adrian, who was doing pull-ups in his hospital bed two weeks after the explosion that took his legs, is blessed with a positive spirit and an abundance of determination. I believe one of the main reasons for the record speed of his recovery is his attitude.
However, every wounded warrior I visited at Walter Reed, and I visited many, greeted me with a smile if he was conscious, courtesy no matter how much pain he was feeling, and asked how my son was doing. More than one, including my own son, told me he was so glad it was he who stepped on the IED because his brother Marines were right behind him and if he hadn’t triggered the device, they would have been hurt or killed.
And every single one of them, as soon as he was well enough to get in a wheelchair, went around the ward to visit those who could not leave their beds. The very best medicine sometimes is just to take our minds off our own problems and try to help someone else. The members of our military seem to know this intuitively. They are all about service to others. And if they can no longer hold a rifle to lay down suppressing fire for their team, they will serve by encouraging a brother who is on the brink of despair.
And the families help each other. We shared our children. Everyone waited for Jake Fox to be transferred from ICU to Four Center Ward and for Doug Vitale to come out of his coma. Every medical victory was greeted with hugs, joyful tears and cheers, every setback with more tears. We literally walked the halls weeping, overwhelmed with the shared emotions.
Our daughter Kira has a particularly soft heart and was deeply affected by the drama of recovery. It was during this time that she made the decision to put her college education on hold and stay in Bethesda to help care for her brother.
When Adrian’s wounds were finally closed and Paul and I knew he was out of danger, we returned to New Jersey – Paul to Vienna Piano and me to my honey bees. When you own a small business, and both of us do, you cannot leave it for an indefinite time and expect it to still be there when you return. With Kira staying in Bethesda, Paul and I were able to take care of the pianos and the farm, visiting the kids every couple of weeks, and know that our daughter was always at her brother’s side.
I was with the kids that exciting day in mid-October when Adrian was officially discharged from the hospital and transferred to out-patient status. I helped them move all the stuff – girl scout cookies, crocheted blankets, hand-carved canes, DVDs – so many gifts from so many people – out of the hospital room and over to their new apartment in Building 62, the outpatient living quarters for Wounded Warriors.
Once there, Adrian began the five-month journey of acquiring and learning to use new legs. Like Aaron Howell, Adrian visited the hospitalized Marines and soldiers nearly every day. To someone with no legs, there is no greater message of hope than to see another Marine with no legs WALK into your hospital room, crack a joke or two, and show off his latest T-shirt.
My favorite, designed by triple amputee Marine Corporal Tyler Southern, says, “I had a blast in Afghanistan,” and on the other side “Combat Wounded Marine, some assembly required.”
Wounded warriors like Adrian and Tyler use humor to keep themselves positive. As Tyler says, “There’s no reason to piss and moan. I can’t sew anything back on.” Indeed. Now THAT’S courage. The shirt I am wearing today was made by a couple of Gold Star dads using the artwork of Marine Sergeant Matt Abbate, who was killed in action in 2010.
I am enormously grateful I am not a Gold Star Mother. My son is alive and kicking. In fact, if he starts with the kicking, be sure to step to one side. Those steel feet are lethal! He has opted not to take a medical retirement from the Marine Corps, and is back at Camp Lejeune with his unit. He is continuing training maneuvers with 1/6 and regularly does three-mile hikes with a 60-pound pack on his back.
I am proud to report that Adrian recently received 1/6’s Marine of the Quarter award, a very high honor, and it is rumored he will receive a meritorious promotion to Corporal on June 1st. Not bad for a kid who just turned 20 two weeks ago.
He does not want or need anyone’s pity. Some day I hope to attend my son’s graduation from college, dance with him at his wedding – being careful to keep my toes out from under those feet – and babysit his children. I will be grateful for every day of life, of health. And I will never, ever forget those who, like Joseph D’Augustine , Phillip McGeath, Chris Bordoni and Matt Abbate will never again brighten their mother’s day with a smile.
In concluding, I want to pass on a prayer shared by a friend of mine in Texas who IS a Gold Star mother. She raised three Marines; her son Phillip McGeath was killed in action this past January. I am not religious but Phyllis’s prayer spoke to me and I hope in hearing it, you will never forget those who have given their lives and their limbs to safeguard your freedom.
God, make me brave for life; much braver than this.
As the blown grass lifts, let me rise
From sorrow with quiet eyes,
Knowing Thy way is wise.
God, make me brave, life brings
Such blinding things.
Help me to keep my sight;
Help me to see aright
That out of dark comes light.