Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.
“I knew from the age of eight that I wanted to be in the Army. I had an uncle who was in the military who I really looked up to. He said that I had to find my own motivation and couldn’t join just because of him. As I got older, I realized that there wasn’t anything else that struck my interest like the Army did. I looked at colleges, but they didn’t appeal to me.
“My senior year of high school, September 11th happened and then one of my best friends from high school, Giovanni Maria, died fighting in Afghanistan a few months later. People thought that his death might push me away from the military, but it didn’t. I remember talking to Giovanni before he passed and telling him to wait a few more months for me to graduate, so we could be over there together kicking some ass. He died before I could get over there. He was 19 and I felt like I owed it to him to join the Army. I joined at 18 and it still feels right eight years later, even after my injury. I plan to stay in for the full twenty years.
“During my third tour in Iraq, my Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) on December 21, 2007. We were out on patrol when we heard that another Company had been hit and one of my buddies, George Howell, was killed by an IED. We were on our way to help them when my truck got hit by an IED. The vehicle flipped over and I was thrown from the Humvee. I remember the explosion and the orange fire ball and then the next thing I knew I was on the ground and couldn’t sit up. I figured that when you are wearing 60 pounds of armor and you get knocked on your back, you are like a turtle who has been turned over and can’t turn back. When the other guys came over to me, they wouldn’t let me sit up because they knew that I was in trouble. They put me on a board and onto a helicopter. I blacked out and woke up in Germany. I broke my back, most of my ribs, and my right lung collapsed. Now, I am completely paralyzed and will be in this chair indefinitely. Most of the other guys in my vehicle got some rather significant injuries, too. One kid lucked out and didn’t have one scratch on him.
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“The most difficult thing about the injury was being in a hospital so far away from my buddies. Even though I was injured, I wanted to go back into the action. I kept fighting with the people who were trying to help me and telling them to send me back. They obviously didn’t for good reason. From Germany, they sent me to do my initial rehabilitation at Walter Reed and then I was transferred to the Kessler Institute in New Jersey where they specialize in spinal chord injuries.
“I just recently finished my therapy and now I am going back to work. There was a slip up in my paperwork for my first assignment after rehabilitation. I was given orders to join an infantry brigade headed to Afghanistan. I told them I would go, but obviously they couldn’t send me with my injury and assigned me to work with wounded warriors and their families at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Now, I will do what I can to help those in need.
“My one big thing that I want to tell people is to say, ‘Thank you’ to soldiers and veterans. You don’t have to like what is going on, but those two words mean more to us than you all realize. I remember lying in bed at Walter Reed and people came by to say, ‘Thank you,’ and it made me feel like people actually cared about what we do and what we go through. Sometimes people say, ‘I’m sorry’ to me because they realize that my life is difficult now, but I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I have told countless people that I am glad I took most of the physical damage rather than anyone else. Of all of the guys in the truck, I had the most combat time. Even though some of them outranked me, I still called them ‘kids’ because I had been all over that country and served three tours.
“Today, I am at Arlington Cemetery to see my friend, George Howell. I have been in-and-out of hospitals for the past two years, so this was my first chance to come and see his grave. I lost nine friends over there and I eventually want to get out to see all of their graves, too.”
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