Today, while watching my five-year-old climb steep stairs that terrify me so that he could ride the Big Slide at our local fair without me, I felt pride, fear, and thankfulness that today, with all that’s going on in the news, that my biggest worries were sunburn and diarrhea from us eating fried Oreos.
My son Tucker and I met his best friend at our neighborhood’s festival, and the boys rode the roller coaster, the swings, and, after our friends left, Tucker bounced in the air, relaxed in the grass, and we lived.
We lived a life of freedom today. One untouched by war, famine, or terror.
My husband, on the other hand, was at work, all day, although he’d anticipated a three-hour meeting. He’s retired Army, and today works as a civilian for the Department of Defense. This week’s news has him busy.
This week’s news also has many of us angry – whether because of the injustice of Josh Duggar’s family disgustingly supporting him even though he admitted to molesting his sisters, or whether we’re exhausted by our Twitter feeds being clogged with news on Isis and captures and beheadings, what’s going on in the world is awful, scary, and full of the unknown.
So of course, a day spent in sunshine with my son is worth ten thankfuls.
As is a recent phone interview that I was blessed to have with Marine Joey Jones, who lost both of his legs defending our country. Known to his friends as “Triple J,” Jones was raised in Dalton, Georgia and enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school.
During his eight years of service, he worked as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (bomb) Technician, deploying to both Iraq and Afghanistan on three combat tours. During his last deployment to Afghanistan, Jones was responsible for disarming and destroying more than 80 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and thousands of pounds of other unknown bulk explosives.
It was during that tour on August 6, 2010 when Jones stepped on and initiated an IED, resulting in the loss of both of his legs above the knee and severe damage to his right forearm and both wrists. He then spent two grueling years in recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington D.C.
Tucker was born at National Naval, which has now become Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
This is about being thankful for the freedoms that I have, about being able to bathe my son when I need to without worrying about water, about a day at the local fair today, and about a man named Joey Jones who is doing Big Good Things.
Things like The Boot Campaign. Things like getting a degree at Georgetown and marrying Meg.
Speaking to Joey on the phone was a gift. His voice and attitude is inspiring and comforting. He answered each question that I had for him with honesty and integrity and an adorable southern accent and the type of respect that doesn’t piss a woman off when referred to as “M’am.” Please note that each of Joey’s responses are me paraphrasing his words, as we were on the phone, unrecorded, and I only was able to take notes.
Me: “I had a chance to watch a few of your interviews (watch part one, two, and three) and was inspired by your positive attitude. For others who may be struggling with with the long journey to healing body and mind right now, is there a piece of advice you’d give them?”
Joey: “Feel positive. Any work that you do for your Life’s work is positive and productive. We have to get past our own struggles to contribute to others’ lives. We’re only limited by ourselves. We get up every day, and focus on positive goals. We live a life of blessing by being alive. So many are not. My life means something. I get up every day and have positive goals. Live life and live it well.”
Me: “I’ve heard that some members of the military do not appreciate civilians thanking them. What’s your take on that?”
Joey: “Educate America to appreciate the sacrifices that veterans give them. Connect and realize that your freedoms are given to you by them. The number one culprit of civilians not understanding is misinformation. Blanket statements made so that society can understand doesn’t mean they know what we go through.”
Me: “Tell me a bit about the Boot Campaign and how it’s changed your perspective.”
Joey: “It was a simple idea where people make a public display by wearing combat boots. It’s a simple display of patriotism and gives the people in uniform a story. Every American is connected.”
Me: “What’s the biggest misconception or inaccurate stereotype that civilians have of the military?”
Joey: “If there are veterans who truly suffer from PTSD, society is afraid of them. But those that truly suffer are not a danger to society. They are only a danger to themselves. They do not have the energy to harm anybody but themselves. There is too much fear out there about vets with PTSD. We’re misunderstood and we’re more sensitive to what danger is than the general public.”
Me: “Given what you’ve been through as a Marine who lost both of his legs in combat, how would you feel about your son becoming a Marine?”
Joey: “I will never discourage my son from being anything that he wants to be. I hope he grows up to be what he wants; whatever he’s passionate about. It doesn’t matter to me whether he’s a Marine, an engineer, or works a trade, as long as he works to fulfill his life dream.”
Me: “Can you tell me about a situation when a stranger who wasn’t aware of your history offered kindness and empathy to you in a respectful way?”
Joey: “That’s hard to say. My family and I have been to the local Cracker Barrel several times and have yet to pay for our own meal. I’m not sure why but I have to believe that it’s not the same person each time. Maybe they know our story. These acts of kindness feel good. My wife recently paid for the person behind her at Starbucks only to learn at the window that the person in front of her paid for her. Kindness matters.”
Me: “You’ve been able to meet quite a few people over the past couple of years and got to sit next to President Obama at a dinner. Can you share a story about one of your favorite meetings?”
Joey: “I was an extra in the 2001 film Lincoln. Daniel Day Lewis and Steven Spielberg came to shoot a scene, and believed all of us to be vets, even though only a few of us were. Both of them took the time to shake our hands, and talk about supporting America’s military. Daniel Day Lewis spoke about the conflicts in Ireland and offered to give autographs to us. I didn’t want to do that because I felt like that would be selfish. We ended up speaking for hours – we talked about motorcycles, life, and he carried my artificial legs to me. We ended up exchanging contact info and stayed in touch. He came to my wedding with Meg and we’ve been friends ever since.”
Determined to make the road to recovery easier for his fellow wounded veterans, Joey Jones started a peer visit program at Walter Reed, which provided opportunities for others recovering from life-changing injuries to mentor and encourage newly-injured patients. This led to an unprecedented year-long fellowship on Capitol Hill with the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, his contributions resulting in the creation of an annual fellowship and paving the way for other inspiring wounded warriors.
Wow, right? So today, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for my little boy having the freedom of playing at a spring fair in our neighborhood. I’m thankful that we do not live in terror, or a war zone. I’m thankful that my husband knows how to help those that are, even when I’m angry with him for having to work this weekend. I’m thankful for my son’s joy and ability to climb the Big Steps without me and I’m thankful to have been asked to interview Joey Jones, who is helping so many.
Without men and women like him, this life we live, free to slide down slides, would be one worrying about fresh water, the nearest bomb shelter, and of where our family members are.
Happy Memorial Day to all and especially to those who protect our children and our lives through sacrifices that most of us will never understand.
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