Rory Dunn: and I remember a large, gigantic, white flash. And it seemed to be it was dark but as I come to find out it was like 10:30 a.m. It was light. But it seemed dark to me because I had my eye blown out of the side of my head. And the other eye had been popped out and there was blood all over.
So a truck went up and it really rocked us back. I remember getting slammed off to the side and the truck was up on two wheels. Now the driver, he did a good job of keeping the truck under control because if it would have rolled over, we would have all died in the back.
Come to a stop. I remember knowing that something bad just happened. I didn’t feel any pain. I had no idea that my eyes had been popped out of my head. I just thought it was dark.
I remember somebody telling me – I couldn’t see whose face it was, because it was dark, and they were telling me, “Sit down. Sit down.” So I finally sat down, and as I sat down then that’s when I blacked out.
Barry: As compelling as these war stories are, I’m not here to interview soldiers like Rory Dunn. Instead, I’ve come to Orlando to talk with people like Rory’s mother and stepfather, Cynthia and Stan Lefever.
That's because our soldiers and Marines are coming home with life-changing injuries that, in previous wars, would have killed them. Often the responsibility for their healing falls on their parents. Veterans’ organizations estimate that some 10,000 returning service members are receiving care from their mothers and fathers—an older generation invisibly pressed into service. Many found their lives changed with a single phone call. For Cynthia, that call came from Rory’s captain.
Cynthia Lefever: I knew something was really wrong, but I didn’t know what. And he started telling me that Rory had been critically injured by a roadside bomb, outside Fallujah.
Barry: Details were sparse. And it was five days before Rory was stable enough to be evacuated from Iraq before the pressure in his brain subsided enough to allow him to get on a plane. Cynthia Lefever’s official orders allowing her to join her son at a military hospital in Landstuhl Germany carried the phrase “imminent death,” words she’s glad she didn’t read at the time… When Rory’s MedEvac plane arrived in Germany from Baghdad, Cynthia was there.
Cynthia: And so they were like, 'Well, we don’t really think you should see him right away.' And 'I’m' like 'sorry.' And they said, 'It’s better if you’re not there when he comes off the MedeEvac. It’s gonna be very disturbing.' I said sorry. So at 4:00, we lined up outside the emergency room doors and they brought him off this bus, feet first and he was naked, wrapped in a blanket hooked up to every kind of hose and tube and wire you can think of. And it was very, very disturbing. But they let me step up and hold his hand.
Stan Lefever: Just for a moment.
Cynthia: Just for a moment. And I was bound and determined not to leave his side until he was okay. They took him in. Did an assessment. They let us in the room to see him, and as I said during my private, alone time with Rory, I just got down in his face and I just said, 'This is your mother. And you will not die.' He moved his arm. And that was it for me. There was no turning back. No leaving him. I was not gonna accept that he was gonna be a vegetable.
Barry: Rory didn’t die. And he definitely didn’t become a vegetable. The Rory I meet is a popular figure at this annual Road to Recovery conference. But his own road has been long and tough—and is still incomplete. And his mom, in particular, has been there every step of the way.
Cynthia: I packed one bag and went to Germany and then went straight to Walter Reed, and I was there for almost a year.
Stan: She didn’t come home for 10 months.