John's Journal...

Wounded Warrior and American Hero - Thomas Lee

:Awake to Life

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Thomas Lee, Jr. is a Staff Sgt E-6. His latest tour was to Taji, Iraq. He also had a tour to Afghanistan and a brief tour in Balugi, Iraq. I met Thomas Lee on a deer hunt with Trijicon Optics (, a big supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project ( in Duvall County, Texas, at the Duval County Ranch ( Not very often do you get to meet a true American hero. However I believe once you hear Thomas’s story you’ll understand why I’ve defined him in this way. This is a soldier’s story.

Click to enlargeWhen I regained consciousness in ICU, I’ll never forget what I saw – the country and western singer, Toby Keith, and General Patraeus. They pinned my purple heart on me, and I received a challenge coin from Toby Keith.  I didn’t remember them being there after I woke up until I saw the medal and the coin. Then I remembered that they had been at my bedside. The next thing I remember was getting placed on a gurneyand being flown to Germany where I stayed for 4 days. The medical personnel hold the wounded there in Germany to make sure everyone’s stable enough to cross the Atlantic.

First we flew to Washington D.C. and left some wounded soldiers there to be treated. Then we flew to San Antonio, where the rest of us were treated at Brook Army Medical Center. Although I began my outpatient treatment in July, 2007,  I didn’t receive my first prosthetic for about 5 weeks because I still had open wounds. As soon as I was physically able, they put a prosthetic knee and leg on me. Today (November, 2007)  I’m pretty much done with physical therapy. The only thing I have left to do is start my running program. Originally I had a prosthetic that slipped on just above the knee. Now I have  a two-piece prosthetic that’s comfortable, and I can wear it for a long time. It fits on over my leg with a suctionClick to enlarge liner so the prosthetic is held on with an air vacuum. The knee I’m using is called a “sea leg.” It has a microprocessor in it that’s  programmable for three modes, walking, cycling or on an elliptical type trainer, which makes using all three types of exercise machines easier for me. IClick to enlarge can walk up and down hills and stairs.  I have only had this new knee for about 5 days in November when I met John E. Phillips at the Texas deer hunt. One of the things I’ve had to learn is to walk with my hip rather than use the muscles in my leg. I still get in a lot of trouble from my therapist for trying to use the muscles in my leg instead of my hip.

As I began to recover, I checked on my other soldiers, and they all seemed to be convalescing very well. I also checked on Orapeza.  Initially, he was put in for a Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism. But I received word that by the time what he did got to the I-Core commander, he was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor. He deserves it. He gave us medical care, kept the enemy at bay, ran across open ground under fire to let the second vehicle know of our condition and returned for us without thinking about it. He acted instinctively and fought off the enemy until help could arrive. Orapeza’s application of the skills he was taught as a soldier was unbelievable. He went far above and beyond the call of duty. He was unbelievable. He was superman in warrior’s clothes. If Orapeza hadn’t made the decisions he made, when he made them, we would have been overrun, we would have all been killed, and our equipment would have been captured.

Tomorrow: What Is the Wounded Warrior Project

Check back each day this week for more about "Wounded Warrior and American Hero - Thomas Lee"

Day 1: A Soldier’s Story
Day 2: A Hero Among Us
Day 3: Help Arrives
Day 4: Awake to Life
Day 5: What Is the Wounded Warrior Project


Entry 438, Day 4