By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2008 – Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Ryan Bradford was part of a patrol to clear an area near Haditha, Iraq, of roadside bombs with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, on Jan. 18, 2007.
"We found it," he said with a chuckle, admitting that he’d gone about it the hard way. "Another guy got hurt, but he just had shrapnel go through his right calf. I pretty much took the full blast."
The bomb, hidden under a pipe, cost Bradford his left leg above the knee and his right one below the knee. He lost his left eye when a piece of shrapnel went through it and lodged in his brain, and retina damage cost him sight in his right eye. He also suffered intestinal damage.
The shrapnel is still there.
"It’s in a good, safe spot, I guess," he said. "I don’t have to have anything done with it."
The unit’s corpsman did all he could medically on the scene, then sent Bradford to a military hospital at Balad. From there, he was sent through Germany’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on his way to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He arrived in Bethesda just three days after his injury and stayed for two months before being moved to the Veterans Affairs facility in Richmond, Va., that specializes in patients with multiple traumas.
From there, it was back to Bethesda to be fitted for a prosthetic eye, then to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for prosthetic legs at the Center for the Intrepid medical center.
"I walk perfect," Bradford said of his prosthesis. "I’m used to wearing them for like 12 hours a day now."
Bradford, who enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school, is taking computer training at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago. When he finishes there, it’s back to San Antonio to start the medical boards that will determine whether he can stay in the Marines.
Bradford said he knows he won’t be able to do every job in the Marine Corps, but he hopes to stay in uniform because he believes he has something to offer.
"I want to be a Marine. I don’t want to get out yet," he said. "I’m trying to stay in so I can go back to Bethesda and work at the hospital in the liaison office so I can talk to the wounded."
The motivation behind this decision came from experiences during his early recovery when another Marine helped him get his mind off his injuries, he said.
"He came to my room a lot — basically, every day," he said. "Instead of talking about my injuries, we just talked about sports [and] girls."
The conversation was a welcome outlet for the wounded Marine. "At that time, I was going through [thoughts like], ‘I don’t want to live right now. I don’t have legs or eyes,’" he said.
Now Bradford, a former high school athlete, even shoots hoops every so often. He said he also goes to concerts and bars, and does things any 22-year-old does.
The reactions he occasionally gets when he’s out in public bother him, though, he acknowledged. Some thank him, some buy meals for him, and some even apologize for what happened in the course of serving his country.
"I’m like, ‘Don’t be. It could’ve happened to anyone," Bradford said. "[I have] no regrets. I’d go back if I could, but I can’t see."
Bradford’s injuries earned him a Purple Heart, which Gen. James T. Conway, Marine Corps commandant, presented on Valentine’s Day 2007.
"It means a lot," he said of the medal. "I feel grateful to have it, but I’d rather not have it."