The Soldier Who Lost His Legs, But Chose Happiness

Written by Justin Gammill

[Some adult language were used in this article. We believe these words are an integral part of the story. Hope you enjoy reading like we did! — Positive Outlooks Blog Team]

Writer / Blogger. As a full-time Texan and a part-time mountain man, Justin believes that a man does not grow a beard, but that a beard grows a man…whatever that means.

I’ve struggled my whole life with the concept of happiness, sometimes more than others. Happiness is such a purely situational condition that it is sometimes as fleeting as it is elusive. Any time I get on to pondering about happiness and how to find my own, I think back to an experience from about 10 years ago…

At the time I was living in San Antonio and had an entire group of friends that were either in the military or worked for one of the several Air Force bases. In the early days of Intrepid Fallen Heroes (IFH) there was a group of volunteers that would literally unplug their Xboxes and Playstations and head up to the Brooke Army Medical Center and hang out with soldiers returning from battle with amputated limbs or severe wounds that required serious rehabilitation for them to learn to function, walk, feed themselves, etc. As a 21 year old kid, counseling 18-19 year old kids missing limbs was gut-wrenching. I think that’s why in the beginning we kept it as simple as just playing video games, and trying to keep some semblance of normalcy.

Anyhoo, I was wandering around one day, and poked my head into a room where a 20 year old corporal (who has asked to remain unnamed) was sitting staring at the stumps of his legs. Without even really thinking about it, I just poked my head in and said “Hey man, you up for some Madden?”. The eyes that I made contact with froze a significant portion of my heart to a temperature that liquid nitrogen would have been proud of. So much hurt. So damn much hurt. So much was spoken in that stare that all I could do was mumble “Sorry man”, and retreat.

The next Saturday visit, I was rambling around the same hallway in way too good of a mood, and without thinking, I popped into the same open door. To find the same corporal now staring at a pair of prosthetic limbs next to his bedside table. Before I could even say something stupid, Those eyes flicked up to meet mine, and had somehow developed another layer of hurt. One of Defeat. When I tried to bashfully apologize, a knot tied it’s self in my throat, and I just kind of croaked when I pulled my head out of the door. This time I walked down the hall, found an empty room and just cried for a minute. You can insulate yourself to that kind of hurt to an extent, but it eventually eats you up.

Fast forward another week, and I’m a little less jovial. Same hallway-but this time I remembered the room, and just quietly walked past the door. As I did I hear a voice call out “Hey A–hole, No Madden today?” I stopped and walked backwards into the door frame with that look on my face that a dog makes when they hear a new noise. Expecting that haunted stare, I found eyes that were completely void of grief. They were hopeful. They were bright. “Uh, sure man, let me go grab an Xbox.” I said, and as I walked away he called out “And a beer, a–hole”. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing football and never once even broached the subject of our first two encounters.

It wasn’t until a few months later when I asked the corporal, who was now up and walking (badly) on the prosthetic limbs, what had changed.
“What do you mean?” he asked when I brought it up.

“Well, I said, the first couple of times I went into your room, you didn’t even have to say anything-I could just tell you were miserable, and that there wasn’t anything short of growing you a pair of new legs that would change that”.

“You can grow legs?” he said laughing, “To be honest Gammill, (one of the only times in our friendship he’s ever called me anything other than a–hole) I WAS miserable. In fact, I appreciated the fact that you didn’t stick around and try to play Molly Motivator.”

“Okay, I said, back to the question: What changed?”

“Well”, he started “While I was sitting there contemplating what I thought was the end of my world, it occurred to me that the ultimate factor I was worried about was happiness. I thought that surly I would never be happy again. The more I thought about that, the more I thought ‘Why Not?’, And I couldn’t answer that. So, ultimately I just decided to be happy.”


“You just decided it?” I asked.

“Yep, a–hole. I just decided it. It’s a choice, I chose.”

Even to this day I get goosebumps when I think about that conversation. A man who had his legs blown off by a home-made bomb half-way around the planet had just made one of the most poignant statements about happiness I’d ever heard. My dad had told me the same thing when I was younger, but I don’t think I ever believed it until I heard: “It’s a choice, I chose”.

So many years later I hold true to that sentiment. Happiness isn’t some mythical creature. It’s not some confection cooked up by an alchemist in a secret government lab. It’s just something you choose to be. Sure, shit is going to happen in life, and we all have our burdens to bear. Life has a funny way of kicking your ass, but the notion of “grin and bear it” isn’t one that involves showing people your ass. It’s a philosophy of bearing those burdens with a smile on your face. With all the dumb things I’ve done in my life, I am usually thankful just to have the opportunity to face adversity. Can’t fight back if you’re dead.

So I say to you all: embrace the struggle, Love the journey, and Choose to be happy. No one else can choose it for you.

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