Army Sergeant 1st Class Cory Remsburg couldn’t be blamed Tuesday night if the ear-splitting, two-minute standing ovation he received near the end of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address brought back memories of the day a blast changed his life near Kandahar more than four years ago.
That was the day the now 30-year-old Army Ranger ended up floating in an Afghan canal—Oct. 1, 2009—after a roadside bomb detonated nearby with an ear-shattering explosion, sending shrapnel into his brain and right eye, and putting him into a three-month coma.
Sergeant 1st Class Remsburg, who has been awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, was a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama at the Capitol. As Obama detailed Remsburg’s progress, Congress—and the Joint Chiefs of Staff—roared their approval.
The commander-in-chief and Sergeant 1st Class Remsburg go way back, at least as far as presidents and grunts can go. They first met on June 6, 2009, in Normandy, during the commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. “He was a strong, impressive young man, had an easy manner,” Obama told Congress, and the nation, on Tuesday night. “He was sharp as a tack.” That was the first of their three get-togethers before Tuesday.
“A few months later, on his 10th deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan,” Obama said. “The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, hours of grueling rehab every day.”
After more than two years in hospitals and rehab centers, Sergeant 1st Class Remsburg returned home to Phoenix, where he continues to undergo six hours of occupational, physical and speech therapy daily. “My fellow Americans,” Obama said as he wrapped up his speech, “men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy.”
Sgt. 1st Class Remsburg joined the Army on his 18th birthday, after his father, Craig—a retired Air Force Reserve firefighter—refused to sign the papers for him to join on his own at age 17. Now his father, sitting next to him Tuesday night, and stepmother, Annie, are Remsburg’s caretakers, as he continues his long march, back to being all that he can be.