AARP Radio Host Mike Cuthbert: You’re listening to 'Picking up the Pieces: How Faith and Family Are Healing Veterans Home From War.' Join us on the Web for more on the issue of families taking care of injured veterans at aarp.org/iraqvets. We list resources you can call on to help veterans in your own family; and you can join discussion groups where you’ll find out what you can do to help others. That’s aarp.org/vets. This is 'PrimeTime Radio.'
Now, more stories of families coping with injured veterans. Your host is writer Barry Yeoman, contributing editor to AARP the magazine.
Barry Yeoman: Welcome back to 'Picking up the Pieces: How Faith and Family Are Healing Veterans Home From War.' Several of the families we’ve met so far have a military background. This history hovers in the air when a military-age son and a veteran father talk about signing up.
Rick Autery: As a parent, don’t want child to join military in time of war. However, when he looked at me and said, 'Dad, you joined the Marines during Vietnam,' what could I say? That was pretty much the end of the conversation.
Barry: Rick Autery, his wife Trish, and their son, Ryan, live just outside Nashville.
Trish: He turned 17 in 2001, right after 9/11– and he came to us with the Marine Corps recruiter wanting me to sign the papers. I asked him– I said, 'You understand we’re getting ready to go to war?– You might have to go?–' He said, 'Yes.' I begged cried and pleaded; he kept asking me to sign them. He said, 'Mom, if you don’t sign, I’m going to anyway when I turn 18, so it doesn’t matter.' So I signed ‘em.
Barry: When Ryan went to Iraq, he did a good job of staying in touch by phone. But the downside of calling home from this war—where anywhere can become a battlefield—is that sometimes the connection can be too good.
Trish: It was terrifying. We were just chatting and catching up. All of a sudden I heard an explosion, but he said, 'I gotta go, I’ll try to call you back,' and he hung up. I sat at work for 10 minutes and cried and waited for him to call me back.
Barry: Trish's son did call back. He was fine. But not long after that, Ryan was injured. What started out as a normal day, with Ryan’s squad delivering money to local village elders, was interrupted by an explosion.
Ryan had no idea how badly he was hurt, until a medic tried to put him on a backboard stretcher.
Ryan: He had to adjust my arm and when he picked it up, I had opened my eyes, and he picked up my arm and I saw it pass by my face, and it was just sitting there with my hand open. I realize I wouldn’t even try to move it– moved my arm to put it on me– to put me on the backboard; that’s when all the pain set in, and it was probably the worst pain I ever felt in my life.
Ryan: When I woke up, I looked at arm; it was bandages and gauze. Every time I woke up, the room was full of guys from my company.
Ryan: There was one point I woke up and had people singing 'My Girl' and 'I’m a Little Teapot.'
To explain the 'I’m a Little Teapot': I lost a wrestling match one day, and I told everybody if I lost, I would sing 'I’m a Little Teapot,' and do the dance too. And that explains that.
Barry: Ryan’s dad, Rick, smiles at this incongruous image, but he’s used to his son’s offbeat sense of humor, which is a family trademark. Rick was lucky in one sense. His employer, Nissan, made it relatively easy for him to care for his injured son.
Rick: The day that he got hurt, found out that morning, I went in that afternoon and went to human relations department, told them that my son had been injured in Iraq and I had to leave. They said, 'You go and do what you gotta do, we’ve got your back, your job will be here waiting on you. Don’t worry about signing anything, doing anything, you go. If we need you we’ll call you.' They were supportive. I used up what vacation I had, but for the most part, it was unpaid Family Medical Leave Act.