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The soldier not about to give up the fight: Cory Remsburg

By Pamela Brown and Elizabeth Stuart, CNN
February 27, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama told the nation about Cory Remsburg during the State of the Union address
  • "Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit," Obama said
  • Remsburg's introduction drew a standing ovation that night for the wounded veteran
  • Now, Remsburg talks to CNN's "New Day"

(CNN) -- His wounds as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan in 2009 left him in the fight of his life -- a fight for his life, for sheer survival.

And when his story was told by the President of the United States, that story brought a packed house in the U.S. Capitol to its feet for a standing ovation.

"Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit," President Barack Obama declared to the nation in his State of the Union address in January.

Being singled out for presidential recognition made Remsburg overnight the most recognizable veteran in the country, a position he's not entirely comfortable with. But he says he's OK with the attention as long as it brings attention to all wounded veterans.

Americans first learned about the bravery and sacrifice of injured veteran Cory Remsburg during President Barack Obama's 2014 State of the Union speech -- where Remsburg received thunderous applause in Congress. Turns out Obama and Remsburg had crossed paths a few times. In 2009 before his injuries, Sgt. 1st Class Remsburg met Obama at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of the Allies' D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied France. Remsburg was one of several soldiers who parachuted in during a D-Day re-enactment.
Americans first learned about the bravery and sacrifice of injured veteran Cory Remsburg during President Barack Obama's 2014 State of the Union speech -- where Remsburg received thunderous applause in Congress. Turns out Obama and Remsburg had crossed paths a few times. In 2009 before his injuries, Sgt. 1st Class Remsburg met Obama at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of the Allies' D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied France. Remsburg was one of several soldiers who parachuted in during a D-Day re-enactment.
Army Ranger's road to recovery
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War hero honored at State of the Union

"There are other people who would have quit a long time ago and would have been happy in their wheelchair. Me? Oh, no," he said in an interview on CNN's "New Day" that aired Thursday.

It's incredibly poignant when he makes such statements. His speech is labored and a little slurred. Every word and movement clearly takes great effort.

But it is effort he makes without complaint, without flinching.

Before the accident

Remsburg joined the Army when he was 18 years old. He wanted to join sooner, but his father, Craig, would not let him.

He went through the rigorous, specialized training to become an elite Army Ranger, deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan 10 times. He spent a total of 39 months in combat, and was eventually made leader of his company's heavy weapons squad.

In June 2009, he participated in ceremony for the 65th anniversary of D-Day, parachuting in on the shores of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, as part of a ceremony President Obama attended. Afterward, the two met briefly.

What Remsburg didn't know then was that he would meet the President again just a year later, under very different circumstances.

On October 1, 2009, Remsburg and his platoon hit a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and the immediate explosion nearly killed him. He was found face down in a pool of water, shrapnel lodged in his brain.

His father still remembers the phone call.

"I immediately went into the mode of saying, 'Hey Cory, how are you doing?' " he said. "And there was silence. And that's when the officer identified himself as Cory's company commander and said Cory's been injured."

Remsburg was in a coma for more than three months. He's undergone dozens of surgeries, is still blind in his right eye and is partially paralyzed on his left side.

But he's come a long way from those first few months.

An unseen, personal battle at the State of the Union

Recovery

After years of rehabilitation centers and hospitals, Remsburg now lives at home with a full-time caregiver in Phoenix, Arizona.

This week, Remsburg returned to Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation in Pomona, California, where he lived for 16 months going through intensive daily therapy to regain his ability to walk and talk.

This was his first time back since leaving 10 months ago. Everyone there -- doctors, nurses and patients -- all came up to say hi, give him a hug and ask how he's doing.

Meeting an American hero

Remsburg acknowledges that his recovery would not have been possible without the support of his family. His stepmother, Annie, left her job for more than a year and a half to stay with him full-time at a hospital in Florida. And his father's employer has allowed him the flexibility to be at his son's side whenever necessary.

His parents are also grateful to all the charities that have supported their son's recovery over the past five years.

Remsburg clearly has been through a lot, but one thing he has not lost is his sense of humor. During a speech therapy session that tested articulation and memory, he had to name something from a category -- his favorite baseball team, a color, a state, a street name -- followed by a card number from a deck.

When asked to name a news website, he said, "Fox News," but then remembered who was in the room with him, and quickly corrected himself by saying, "Or, CNN. Oops."

Meetings with the President

Remsburg met President Obama for the second time in 2010, shortly after coming out of his coma. The President happened to be visiting Walter Reed Medical Center outside Washington, and realized he knew the young man once he saw the photo of their first meeting hanging on the wall near his bed.

Remsburg is the only known wounded veteran to have met the President both before and after his injury.

Their third meeting was about a year ago, when President Obama made a stop in Phoenix and requested to see how Remsburg was doing. When Obama arrived, Remsburg did something that shocked even his father.

"Cory got up, saluted him, then got up with a walker and walked across the floor," Craig said.

For Cory, the gesture was to prove a point: "To show the President that this is what happens when you don't quit."

Bipartisan outpouring for wounded war hero at State of the Union

What's next

On Wednesday, Remsburg turned 31. To celebrate his birthday, he took a tandem skydiving jump; his first since his injury.

He's also working with a therapy dog that will help him do some of the things he can no longer do for himself.

He says his heroes are his Army Ranger buddies who gave their lives serving their country. He wears a bracelet engraved with their names as a reminder of their ultimate sacrifice.

His long-term goals are to go to college, get married and have children, to live a full life, just like anyone else.

Opinion: Veterans shouldn't politicize the honoring of a fellow vet

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