By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - Spc. Charlie Lemon wasn't ever supposed to stand again.
But just 11 months after losing both his legs in Iraq, Lemon walked Thursday to the front of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment Memorial to receive his Purple Heart medal from deputy III Corps and Fort Hood commander Brig. Gen. Joseph DiSalvo.
"This is the first time I've worn this since my injury," said Lemon, 29, gesturing toward his Army combat uniform, now decorated with the purple and gold honor. "It's nice to put it back on."
Lemon grew emotional as he continued.
"Be proud you can wear it," he told a crowd of fellow soldiers, family and friends. "Don't take for granted what you have."
Lemon was injured on June 8, 2011, during a tour with Maddog Company, Thunder Squadron. While on a mission in Najaf, a strategically important Shia stronghold, his armored vehicle was hit by a triple-array explosively formed penetrator, or EFP.
The blast killed the vehicle's driver, Pvt. Matthew J. England, and severely wounded Lemon, the gunner, below the waist. Two other troopers, Spc. Michael Murray and Spc. Jeffrey Alt, helped apply a tourniquet to Lemon's legs to save his life.
Lemon said he awoke six days later at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. A week later, he was flown to Fort Hood to undergo one of many rehabilitative surgeries, accompanied by his mother, Cherl Towns of Florida.
DiSalvo greeted the flight when it arrived. At Thursday's ceremony, he shared with Lemon and Towns a memento he'd kept in his blouse pocket since their meeting: a red, white and blue card thanking DiSalvo for his service. Towns gave him the card, along with a hug, when she met him.
Lemon's own selflessness was equally impressive, said the brigadier general.
"'How's my crew doing?'" DiSalvo recalled Lemon's first words upon arrival. "'I'm doing good, I just want to get back to my team.'"
Throughout his recovery, Lemon's maintained the same kind of outlook, despite doctor after doctor's determination he would never walk again.
Lemon has been walking since January, when he received his first prosthesis. He's now logging a half-mile each day. He's also been scuba diving and is planning on going skydiving.
The specialist, who is receiving therapy at Brooke Army Medical Center's Center for the Intrepid - the military's premier rehabilitation center for amputees and burn victims in San Antonio - also took up hand-cycling. He's become so good so fast that he's on the verge of qualifying for the military's paralympic team.
Lemon attributed his achievements to equal parts optimism and defiance.
"(My doctors) said 'Try to prove us wrong,'" he said. "And that's exactly what I did."
For more on this story, read the next Fort Hood Herald.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.