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Alive Days

In the aftermath of bullets and bombs, service members who wear the Purple Heart Medal celebrate their Alive Day.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

My Alive Day is July 31st.

July 31st is the simultaneously best day on my calendar and the worst day on my calendar.

I'll start with why I think it is the worst day.

For a majority of the year, I try to suppress the thoughts, feelings, and pain that surround this date. I try to forget the pain and fear that struck my body harder than the 7.62 caliber bullet that went straight through my arm. I try to forget the torment of the mental images that flashed through my mind when I thought about the possibility of never again holding my then two year old daughter. I try to forget the sight of tucking my own innards back inside my arm. I try to forget the images of the aftermath that was the field when my team laid waste to the people who shot me.

For most of the year, I succeed in forgetting. Well, not forgetting. I just don’t actively remember.

But not on my Alive Day. On my Alive Day I actively try to remember what happened. I try to recall every.single.detail.

I try to remember what the percussion of the mortar rounds felt like in my chest.

I try to remember what the echoes from the machine guns sounded like.

I try to remember the unmistakable snapping of the 5.56 caliber bullets flying from muzzles of the weapons that were carried by some of the hardest men on Earth.

I try to remember sitting beneath the broken stairwell with my arm wrapped with medical tape.

I try to remember the feeling of the corpsman's fingers touching the inside of my neck while he was monitoring my pulse.

I try to remember the fear that I felt with each passing minute.

I try to remember rising to my feet, strapping my weapon around my neck, grabbing my dog's leash, and walking to the helicopter under my own power.

I try to remember the feeling of the helicopter's blades whipping the Iraqi dirt in my face.

I try to remember seeing the ground become farther and farther away.

I try to remember the look on the surgeon's face when I instruct him to not call my mother until my operation was complete.

I try to remember all of those things because there are thousands of men and women who didn’t get the chance to tell you their story. Their story ended in a flash.

The events that led me to having an Alive Day shaped me as the man that I am today. The events that led to me having an Alive Day do not define who I am.

My children define who I am. My wife defines who I am. Ultimately, I define who I am.

I celebrate my Alive Day. I’m happy that I get the chance to share my story with you.