The State of the Union Address seldom draws my attention, but this year was different.
Sitting at my computer, waiting for the president to take the podium, I was checking Facebook and saw our nephew, U.S. Army Ranger 1st Class Cory Remsburg, was in Washington, D.C., at, he said, the West Wing.
“Is that a hotel?” I queried.
Then I realized this was the real West Wing at the White House, my first inkling that something amazing was about to happen.
For nearly five years, Cory has been recovering from severe combat wounds. He had met President Obama three times during this time, and was invited to visit the White House when he was ready.
Tuesday was the day, and it would be one that he — and his family — will never forget.
Cory was about 5 when my husband’s sister, Anne, married Cory’s dad, Craig Remsburg. Visits were few, but we stayed in touch, as families do, with updates and pictures of Cory, his brother, Chris, and his stepsister, Shelby.
On a trip a few years ago to St. Louis, where the Remsburgs lived, we found that Cory, 17, had grown up to be a polite, fun-loving and sweet young man. School activities and the Civil Air Patrol occupied his time.
His goal: walk in his dad’s footsteps and join the Army. (He has about 15 family members who have also served.)
Craig couldn’t bring himself to sign permission papers, so Cory waited a year, until he came of age, and he was off to basic training. He eventually joined the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and achieved the coveted status of Army Ranger.
On Cory’s 10th mission in Afghanistan, on Oct. 1, 2009, a roadside bomb exploded near him. One ranger was killed, several injured.
Cory was thrown into a water-filled ditch. His comrades pulled him out, but he wasn’t breathing.
This particular mission included a medic, quite unusual but fortunately timed. The severe damage to Cory’s skull didn’t deter the medic and his comrades from working quickly to resuscitate him.
He was taken by helicopter to Kandahar, then to Bagram for surgery and eventually moved to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he was reunited with his family, including Shelby, who was an Army nurse and officer.
After two weeks, still in a coma, he was transported stateside to Bethesda Naval Hospital. That was followed by many surgeries, as he struggled to recover from the shrapnel wounds to his brain.
He was transferred to James Haley VA Hospital in Tampa for rehab, then to Casa Colina in Pomona, Calif., eventually moving to the transitional living center there.
Some days during recovery were good, some not so good, but Cory never gave up.
He moved back to Arizona last spring and is now living on his own, a short distance from his parents, waiting to purchase a home that will be renovated for him.
To know Cory is to love him. To know his family is to love them, too.
Craig and Anne put their lives on hold to be by Cory’s bedside and at his rehab sessions. They work together, always mindful that he has made amazing strides in his recovery but that he isn’t the only wounded soldier out there.
During President Obama’s State of the Union address, he recognized Cory’s determination to recover from his war injuries. Cory received a long-lasting standing ovation from everyone in the room.
“My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy,” Obama said. “Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged. But for more than 200 years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress — to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement.”
OTHERS IN NEED
While Cory deserves the two-minute ovation and all the accolades he receives, he is not the type of guy who will let it go to his head. He knows there are thousands of combat-wounded military members who still have needs. He will continue to move forward with his physical achievements so that he can speak for them.
Interviewed by a local television station in Gilbert, Ariz., where they live, Cory and Craig both expressed appreciation for the recognition from President and Mrs. Obama, who was seated next to him.
When asked about the hug he received from Mrs. Obama, Cory said, “It was sweet,” then added, “She’s tall!”
Craig said they have heard from several of Cory’s fellow Rangers. They are happy the president recognized the military and their service to our country and that Cory was there to represent them.
“It goes above me; it goes for every wounded soldier,” Cory said.
The Tobias clan is having a family reunion this July in Plattsburgh, and Cory will be there.
My husband, Toby, and I can’t wait to hug a true American hero.
Email Sue Tobias: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com