7 heartwarming veterans stories in honor of Memorial Day
Touching tales of heroic and thoughtful acts, both by and for our brave service members
A dream wedding after a nightmare injury
In 2010, Marine Corporal Juan Dominguez stepped on an IED while serving in Afghanistan. Dominguez was left a triple amputee, losing both legs and one arm. But that didn't stop him from marrying the love of his life, Alexis. To honor the vet, the town of Temecula, Calif., donated all the elements of their dream wedding — an estimated $30,000 worth of stuff, including the flowers, the venues, the photographer, and the food. But the real icing on the proverbial cake? Dominguez was able to walk down the aisle with his beautiful bride in a sunset ceremony on April 27.
"Did I ever think I was going to get to this point?" Dominguez said. "Yes, yes I did. Because nothing's changed. I'm a little bit shorter. I lost a couple legs and an arm but my brain's still here, my heart's still here." Check out the video of their story:
An anonymous surprise
After stopping in a Dunkin Donuts this past March, Samantha Brown returned to her car to find an envelope left under her windshield wipers. Inside she found two $20 bills and a note that read:
"I noticed the sticker on the back of your car. Take your hero out to dinner when he comes home. Thank you both for serving. Him deployed and you waiting." — United States Veteran / God Bless. [Huffington Post]
The sticker on the back of Ford's car read "Half my heart is in Afghanistan." The heart is her boyfriend Albert John DeSimone, who is serving abroad in the Army. Ford, who lives outside of Boston, went home and posted a photo of the anonymous gift on Facebook, as it was too early to call her boyfriend. Above the photo she said, "There are no words to describe how I'm feeling right now. Tears in my eyes. I just wish I could thank whoever did this! God bless our troops and all of those who stand behind them." The picture instantly went viral, racking up more than 1.2 million likes and 142,000 shares. When Ford was finally able to tell DeSimone the touching story, he said it's people like this who make him proud to be an American soldier.
The disabled veteran who learned to walk again
Arthur Boorman was a paratrooper in the first Gulf War. His service was quite difficult on his body, and he eventually lost much of the use of his back and knees, forced to rely on wheelchairs and canes. Doctors told him he would never walk without crutches again. Depressed and immobile, Boorman gained a lot of weight. Desperate, Boorman contacted yoga teachers for fitness help. Most took one look at him and said it wasn't possible. But wrestler-turned-yogi Diamond Dallas Page accepted Boorman's condition as a challenge, and really believed in the 47-year-old veteran.
In the video that recounts Boorman's struggle, you see the portly vet struggle to walk even with the help of canes. You see him attempt and fail at balancing in a yoga move. You see him fall again and again — sometimes even flat on his face — and yet you see him get back on that yoga mat. Over time, Boorman sheds the pounds, gains strength and flexibility, and, eventually, the ability to not only walk without help, but also to sprint — his long hair blowing freely behind him — down the road. "Never underestimate what you can accomplish when you believe in yourself," reads the script on the video's close. Grab a tissue and see for yourself.
The homeless veteran hero
He's known as Staff Sgt. Royal on account of his 10 years in the army. And it was that battlefield training that helped the homeless Seattle veteran save a friend's life one summer night last year. Royal was just a few blocks away when an argument escalated outside a bar, and an unidentified man shot the homeless man he was fighting with. The victim ran down the street before collapsing. Royal quickly came to his aid. The bullet had struck the man's femoral artery — a large artery in the thigh that, when ruptured, can cause victims to bleed out. Royal used a belt as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. The man was transported to a nearby hospital and was said to be in stable condition. Royal attributed his knowledge to his medical training at Ft. Carson in Colorado. "I'm just glad I was there," he said.
The 89-year-old veteran who finally learned to read
Ed Bray stormed the beach at Normandy during World War II, earning two purple hearts. And yet, the toughest thing the 89-year-old said he had to face in his life was his illiteracy. For decades, Bray went to extraordinary efforts to keep his inability to read or write a secret. While on the job at an Air Force base, he had a coworker help him with documents. At home, his wife did the same for 62 years until her death in 2009. Finally, the determination to shed the shame and learn how to read broke through. "I want to read one book," he said. "I don't care if it's about Mickey Mouse. I want to read one book before I die."
In early 2013, Bray found Professor Tobi Thompson at Oklahoma's Northeastern University. Her patient and dedicated attitude helped Bray accomplish what he never thought possible. In February the veteran read his first book, a grade-school biography of George Washington. "It just makes me feel good," Bray said. He's since gone on to read three books, and has no plan to stop now.
An unlikely friendship
They were quite the pair — she, a beautiful young girl with a bright, white smile; he, a homeless veteran with a scraggly beard and weathered face. Their friendship started out slow. The girl — who remains unidentified — began saying "hi" to Tony as she traveled to and from her workplace. Soon enough they were having small conversations and then regular talks and periodic lunches. "Tony tells me about his war stories, loved ones, and who should win the Super Bowl," she wrote in a Dec. 5, 2012, post on Reddit. "I tell Tony about my problems, loved ones, and how I don't really care who should win the Super Bowl."
From an outsider's point of view, it seemed the young girl was offering the old, lonely man an ear. But the friendship was reciprocal. Recently, the girl went through a difficult period emotionally, and Tony reportedly helped her navigate those tough personal choices. One day she was walking around feeling sorry for herself when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned to find Tony giving her a concerned look. He had something for her, he said. "From his army jacket, he pulls out a watch head. Tony takes my hand and gently places the broken antique in my palm." He went on to say: "I don't have much but I wanted you to know that you have done what many others would not simply by being my friend." The girl said she realized that when you extend yourself to those in need: "You get back not only what you gave, but infinitely more," she wrote.
Jumping for veterans
Marjorie Bryan and Marianna Sherman work with their local Ohio chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America — an organization made up of mothers whose kids have served in the military — as well as its veterans' food pantry. And this pair of octogenarians were committed to an act so brave it would rival those accomplished by the young men and women they supported. To help raise money for the vets' groups, the women decided to parachute out of a plane. One clear June day in 2012, the two joined a team of six as well as retired Army Ranger paratroopers who would be guiding the women in their descent. With more than 200 people looking on, the great-grandmothers jumped in tandem, making it safely to the ground. Bryan, for one, was jubilant upon landing, and even said she'd consider doing it again.