Wounded war vet reunites with Vermont GI who saved him
Saturday, December 11, 2010
SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — The last time they were together, it was in the wreckage of a roadside bombing in Afghanistan.
Sgt. Edward Matayka, a 33-year-old Vermont National Guard medic, had been mortally wounded. Specialist David Schwerer was among those who gave him first aid, applying tourniquets that saved his life but couldn’t save his legs.
On Saturday, Matayka got to say thank you, welcoming Schwerer home from a yearlong deployment in an emotional reunion at a ceremony for returning troops.
“This was one of the first things he requested coming out of unconsciousness, to greet the man who saved his life once he found out who it was,” said Laurie Ingalls, his mother-in-law. “He wanted to greet him so badly.”
The July 2 blast about 20 miles from Bagram Air Base hit the last vehicle in a four-truck convoy, killing Specialist Ryan Grady, 25, who was behind the wheel, and maiming Matayka. Schwerer, who was in the lead vehicle, wasn’t hurt.
Matayka, of Lee, N.H., lost both legs, suffered a spinal injury, fractures in his back and face, a broken jaw and a stroke that left him partially paralyzed on the left side.
He is being treated at McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va., but was flown north for Saturday’s reunion by Air Compassion for Veterans, a Virginia Beach, Va., group that provides free medically-related flights for servicemembers.
Now confined to a wheelchair, the camouflage-clad veteran was among about 300 people who crowded into an aviation hangar to welcome home Schwerer and 130 other soldiers who flew in from Camp Atterbury, Ind., capping their Afghanistan service.
Before he had greeted his own mother, Schwerer went straight to Matayka when he walked single-file into the hangar with the other soldiers, giving him a big hug.
“It feels great,” said Schwerer, 23, of White River Junction. “I’m so glad to see him. I’m so glad to see he is the way he is. He looks normal.”
Matayka’s wife, Karen, a National Guard sergeant who was also serving as a medic on the same deployment, stood by his side at every turn Saturday.
During the ceremony, she held up his lifeless left hand so he could clap it with his right hand as the troops fell out of their formation and marched into a neighboring section of the hangar.
Tears streamed down her face as Matayka hugged Schwerer, his battlefield buddies and other well-wishers. Among them: Grady’s father, Sgt. 1st Class James Grady, who broke down as he hugged Karen Matayka and then shook hands with Matayka.
“I would’ve liked Ryan to come home, but we’ll manage,” Grady said in an interview. “We’ll get through it.”
Matayka, who called his wounds “a price I signed up for,” said he remains focused on his recovery. Once he’s released from the Virginia hospital, he’ll move to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for amputee rehabilitation and the fitting of prosthetic limbs.
As for his immediate future: “Hopefully, new legs. I keep putting ’em on my Christmas list. Let’s see what’s under the tree.”
“I think he’s a hero,” said his wife. “He’s happy to have paid that price and he wants to stay in the military if it all possible.”