Heroes bear cost of their service

By WENDY BURTON | Muskogee (Okla.) Phoenix | Published: March 8, 2012

Marine Corps veteran Josh Wege said his most painful memory is laying wounded with other Marines, waiting to be airlifted to a hospital.

“Another Marine was holding my hand, squeezing it from time to time to make sure I was still with him,” Wege said. “I knew I had lost my legs. I knew I was hurt pretty bad.”

Wege woke up in the hospital in Germany as they removed his breathing tube — and it wasn’t easy facing life with both of his legs missing below the knees, he said.

Wege and Marine Corps veteran Matt Kinsey spoke about their experiences with amputation to Veterans Affairs employees at the Muskogee Civic Center on Wednesday.

The VA call center handles more than 200,000 calls a month, and they process 38 percent to 40 percent of the veterans’ education claims in the nation. Muskogee VA Regional Office employees processed 25,000 disability claims in 2010.

Later in the day, Wege and Kinsey visited veterans at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center.

“They boosted the morale of our inpatient veterans with their visit,” said Nita McClellan, VA Medical Center spokeswoman.

During the Civic Center event, Wege talked about standing on his prosthetic legs for the first time.

“I told them, ‘This hurts,’” Wege said, laughing. “They told me, ‘You have them on wrong, dummy.’”

Wege said he has to joke about the experience, as many wounded servicemembers do to make it through tough times.

He remembers well the day his family came to see him after his injuries.

“They were supposed to arrive around noon and they didn’t get there until about 5 p.m.,” Wege said. “I was furious and upset by then, but so happy to see them.”

Wege said there’s nothing like experiencing what he has to make a person appreciate the people they love.

He said Walter Reed National Military Medical Center staff kept him from falling in despair by encouraging him to try sports as soon as he possibly could.

“They suggested I try snowboarding,” Wege said. “I thought, ‘With no legs? Do you really think snowboarding is a good idea?’”

But he tried it, and it’s turned into a passion of his.

Other sports offered were wheelchair basketball and sit-down volleyball and softball.

Today, Wege and Kinsey are members of the Wounded Warriors Softball Amputee team.

The team is made up of veterans and active duty soldiers who lost their limbs post-Sept. 11, according to its website www.woundedwarrioramputeesoftballteam.org.

“The team includes individuals with a variety of amputations of the arm, above knee, below knee, bilateral below knee, and foot,” the website says. “Some are still in the service, others are attending college thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill while others have moved on to new careers.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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