Thought you might like to read this story… I know it is one of many but I met this young man last Nov 11… My friend Alice and I visited Long Beach Veterans Hospital… As usual we visited the spinal wards and as we talked to many Vets… One of them said there were some Iraq Vets on the 1st Floor… so we headed that way… We met Rudy and he was so great to speak with… He was so positive about himself and life… Not once did we even see or feel any thing but good thoughts and felt he had tried to do what was right… We left him and he gave us a feeling of WOW…He sure made us proud.. We took a picture and I told him I would return by Christmas with the picture and more goodies…. My visit was on Christmas Day and I was told Rudy was home for the day and would be back later that evening… So I left a card with our picture and some Christmas goodies… So when I saw his picture and this story in our paper… I remembered what a special young man he was…
PATH TO A PURPLE HEART
Army Cpl. Rudy Saavedra was three weeks from coming home when a bullet in Iraq paralyzed him.
By TOM BERG THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
LONG BEACH A small part of Rudy Saavedra’s dream came true Friday.
Not the part about finding a house, getting married or having kids. And not the part about walking again someday. But the part about looking back on his life, knowing he acted with honor.
It came during a Purple Heart ceremony for him and three other soldiers wounded in Iraq. One Army general spoke about wounded warriors, while another general spoke of the human sacrifice. There was pomp. Solemnity. And the formal pinning of Purple Hearts on men blinded by war or missing limbs or paralyzed.
But it was something else that touched Saavedra during the ceremony at the Long Beach Veterans Administration Hospital.
It came from people like Maryestelle Gwin of Carson, who pushed through the crowd of 250 to meet him afterward.
“I want to thank you for everything you are,” she said.
Another man said, “I just want to shake your hand.”
Saavedra, 31, of Rossmoor sat bolt upright in his wheelchair, his eyes glazed, holding in the emotion.
“To see this many people proud of what we did, it feels great,” he said. “Like I was doing the right thing.”
Saavedra knew his path early in life. His father served in the Army, as had his father before him.
“I wanted to grow up like every kid and be a hero, you know?” he said.
He graduated from Burbank High School in 1993, bounced around dead-end jobs before joining the Army in 1999. He finally found purpose in the discipline and daily routine – in training, in Kosovo, and finally in Iraq.
“My platoon sergeant was a great teacher,” he said. “He explained everything so perfect, I knew if I did everything he told me to, I could come out alive and honorable.”
And so he did, on Aug. 28.
His gun team had pulled truck duty, guarding a road south of Bagdad in an area called the Triangle of Death.
“You couldn’t go more than 50 feet without seeing a hole in the ground,” he said – from buried bombs – improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
He’d done this plenty of times before. It never got easier – 55 hours sitting in a parked Humvee, watching for insurgents planting IEDs. Every six hours, you’d climb up to the turret for a two-hour shift.
It was the last shift, probably the last time Saavedra would pull this duty before leaving in a few weeks. He was climbing into the turret when a shot rang out.
“It felt like someone put a bell over your ear and went tingggg!” he said. “It felt like my whole body was on fire.”
The sniper’s bullet entered his back, hit three vertebrae and exited his stomach. He fell to the ground, blood and guts falling with him.
“You want to cry, but you can’t,” he said. “You’re just screaming inside.”
In that moment, he felt his life’s dream disappearing.
“You could feel everything shutting down,” he said. “Your body leaving you. I told my buddy, ‘Tell my parents that I love them.’”
He awoke in a hospital. Alive. But unable to move his legs. Doctors at Walter Reed Army Hospital warned his parents to prepare for the worst.
“What I saw was worse than the worst,” his mother, Martha Saavedra of Rossmoor, said Friday. “That’s why I’m so thankful he is alive today. I feel like crying.”
Saavedra was given a 50-50 chance of regaining the use of his legs. Then a small miracle happened. A sensation. A tingling, first in his left, then his right leg. Now he can feel pain in both legs – pain that never felt so good. “I know I’ll walk again,” he said. “Something inside of me knows.” While in the Army, he took the Civil Service exam to become a mailman – the idea of walking everyday, out in the fresh air, appealed to him. “I just want to live a normal life, you know?” he said. “Have a house, a wife and kids. And walk again.” If he can’t, he’ll have a reminder – a small Purple Heart – that he acted with honor. “If I had to do it again and I knew what was going to happen, I’d do it all over again,” he said. “I know in my heart I’ve done a good job – with honor and dignity.”