It takes great hope to say the words “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” A hope that also comes with great sacrifice. Each year we pause during the second week of November to reflect on those powerful words and hold reverence to honor our military veterans.
As we look to November 11 this week, I am observing it in a way I never have before. By asking a question I have never asked before. Am I living a life worthy of those sacrifices? Recently, I was introduced to a veteran that not only reminded me of the freedoms I am awarded each and every day as a result of those serving but also the personal responsibility to live life actively seizing every ounce of possibility in each day to honor those freedoms earned by our men and women in arms.
Purple Heart recipient, U.S. Army Specialist Charles “Charlie” Lemon has a calm delivery held with a subtle excitement about him, even as he tells me a handful of casual life anecdotes. It’s easy to understand him as a man born to roam. The rasp in his voice easily blends with kindness of character and a free spirited charm blended with light humor. Just hearing his voice, you can picture him hiking through the woods, fly fishing on a warm summer day, and coming in exhausted after a day hitting the waves. It’s in his voice. He’s an outdoorsman. A man accustomed to standing firm footed in the presence of fear and a man that needs to feel the heat of day on his face in the great outdoors under the sanctuary of sky.
As a young man fresh out of high school, he followed the path before him to further his education but found the breeze of fresh air, call of new experiences and unknown paths irresistible. A native of the warm humid air from the west coast of Florida, the Tampa native found himself seeking the call of duty, like many in his family before him, to serve his country and continue his pursuit of rugged adventures. Lemon enlisted into the United States Army in 2009 as a M1A2 Abrams tanker.
Stationed with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas, Specialist Lemon deployed to An Najaf, Iraq in August of 2010 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with orders for a 12-month deployment but on June 8, 2011, just 6 weeks before he was scheduled to return home, his platoon came into contact with a roadside bomb. Lemon lost both of his legs in the attack and his best friend was killed instantly.
Lemon spent 18 months recovering in San Antonio, Texas where he learned to adjust to his new way of life, forging ahead with determination, grit, resilience and most of all – hope.
Not letting his injuries hold him back, he quickly began pushing himself to figure out how to do the things he once loved within his new normal. While still going to therapy 20-30 hours a week, he leaned on his support system to get into nature, start swimming, hiking, kayaking and doing other activities he had once enjoyed and even began doing community service – all as a part of his pursuit of hope and healing. He no longer would let himself take the gift of life for granted.
As his recovery was coming to an end, worries about transitioning to civilian life with independence began to surface. Operation Finally Home and the Gramatica family partnered with local businesses in his hometown to build an energy-efficient custom home adapted to his specific needs. Mortgage free.
“I was speechless,” Lemon shares when describing the moment he learned of the kindness he would receive.
He’s well settled into that home now and on June 8th of this year, it marked the ten year anniversary of that brutal day in Iraq. The day he refers to as his “alive day.” For Lemon, it was a day of thank you’s. He thanked the brave men that were there with him, the medics, nurses, surgeons and therapists. He thanked his family and friends that stayed by his bedside and every single person that prayed for him or posted messages of love in the weeks and months when he was fighting for his life.
“I go back and read them … every year. And I cry every year. Happy tears. Thankful tears.”
“Remember to live every day like it’s your last and appreciate everything and every moment we have in this beautiful world,” he states.
True to his goal, today Lemon seizes life. He gets outside in the water and dirt whenever possible, serves on the board of the Gramatica Family Foundation to help build homes for other wounded veterans, recently graduated from college with a degree in finance and shares his story whenever he can to help bring healing to others.
“It helps me in my healing too,” he says. “It helps to talk about it.”
There is a scripture in the Bible that says serve one another humbly in love (Galatians 5:13). The brave sacrifices made every day by our American service members are often out of sight, but are made humbly in love for one another, for our country, for our freedom, for liberty and justice for all.
May we dare to set a goal like Charlie Lemon’s to live a life worthy of those sacrifices and may his zeal for life lead us all to our own healing & most of all the hope to forge ahead.
Writing the Book of Hope
We’ve been writing the Book of Hope together for 45 weeks now, but it’s never too late to join us. Here’s all you need to get started.