Time for another Poppy’s Wish Heroes Vacation, and this one was a verifiable delight, which began with a fancy gala at the Ritz. Our military wives looked stunning in their gowns, while their Marine escorts turned out dashing and elegant.
The Ritz events manager made sure that when our families retired in the wee hours of the morning to their suites, that they were welcomed to bed with special touches, such as greeting cards and chocolate-covered strawberries.
Taking advantage of a late check out, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and headed out with the kiddos to Disneyland!
Lance Corporal Carlos is a California native who joined the Marine Corps as a combat engineer. In 2010, three months into his deployment, he was wounded by an explosion. Both legs were amputated at the knee, his left femur was broken, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Not letting these injuries get the best of him, Carlos has hand-cycled six marathons, as well as competed at the 2012 Warrior Games in wheelchair basketball and wheelchair racing. He won the 2013 Western Conference Championship with his basketball team, and he’s currently training to run a 5K race. With medical retirement looming, he’s taking college courses to become an ultrasound technician.
Our other Marine was Sergeant Alejandro “Alex” from Texas. During his second deployment to Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion 7th Marines, he helped his platoon search for improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are like car bombs. In July 2010, while returning from a re-supply mission, his truck was struck by an IED.
Once airlifted back to the States, he underwent nine surgeries to save his right foot, but ultimately the leg was amputated below the knee. After learning to walk without a cane, physical therapy and a prosthetic limb enables Alex to walk or run with no problems. He is reenlisted with the goal of becoming a small arms technician.
There they enjoyed the amazing pools and water slides, dessert bar, and fireworks show from their ninth-floor accommodations. Two days were spent inside the theme park, riding rides, exploring attractions, and savoring Disney-style meals.
Freedom Alliance talked to the wives about living with a Wounded Warrior. Jacki spoke openly about Carlos’s endurance:
“It was very hard at times to just sit back and watch him struggle during his recovery. I had to keep telling myself that he needed to do it on his own and that I would be there when he asked for my help. I think the worst part were the times when he was in so much pain and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt so helpless. When he would have to have his wounds cleaned, he would scream because of the phantom pains. He told me it was as if someone bent his foot to his shin, then sliced it open and set it on fire. I swear I have secondary PTSD from that part of the process.”
But Carlos, who is very comical, has persevered and today likes to make people laugh. While in the California Adventure part of the park, he wheeled himself over to an antique car, lay out along the running board, striking a pose, and hollered, “See, babe, you married a pinup model!”
Alex, who is quieter but very endearing, had to take it easy. “Every morning, early, my leg swells and it hurts.” Like Carlos, Alex suffers from phantom limb (the sensation that the amputated limb is still there); it hurts him every year especially on the date of his injury, a phenomenon that psychologists say is very common.
His wife, Alice, also spoke about what it’s like being a caretaker. “It’s a whole different kind of love! I mean, it sucks to see your significant other in pain and having to go through all the surgeries to get better. The emotions were like a roller coaster—just a lot of ups and downs. After the amputation and him getting better walking with his prosthetic, it is a good feeling to see him being independent. It makes me happy that he got through all these surgeries but still kept a positive outlook.”
At the end of the vacation, both Carlos and Alex and their families expressed great pleasure about their holiday. It was particularly nice, they said, to have a vacation that didn’t stress their budgets.
“We have never had a real vacation,” said Alex and Alice. “This was our first one, and it was unforgettable.” They continued, “I feel Freedom Alliance is more involved in our lives. Some organizations like to be flashy with their fancy clothing and stuff. You can give a person $600 worth of cool shirts and backpacks, but that doesn’t really mean anything because those won’t help with the transition into civilian life.”
Carlos’s sentiment was a nod toward the donors who make it possible for Freedom Alliance to do what we do. “It was nice to feel appreciation and to know that there are so many people out there that care and are willing to do what they can to support those that have given so much for their country, and to show so much support for their families as well.”