Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times
War becoming personal
On April 1, Jordan comes home to Roanoke on convalescent leave. It's dusk when he arrives at the Roanoke Regional Airport, the sky darkening above the mountains, the rain spitting against the terminal windows. He winces as he comes down the plane's wet steps, sitting on each one, bumping downward until he reaches the bottom, where his wheelchair waits on the tarmac. Blood seeps from his wounds, which are aggravated by the trip. But he's happy to be home.
In the terminal, his family and friends wave excitedly. Media photographers ready their cameras.
A stranger comes up to Jordan's mother. "Who's the important person?" he says.
"My son," Ginger says, smiling. "He's a Marine."
The man nods. "There's no one more important," he says, and walks on.
"Tell him we appreciate his service," another stranger tells her.
SOURCES: Department of Defense, Associated Press, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, National Naval Medical Center
When Jordan rolls inside, his family and friends cheer. His mother's eyes get shiny again. His 5-year-old cousin, Kyndall Fitzgerald, hides her face -- she's frightened by his appearance. He's always been skinny, but he lost 25 pounds in the hospital, leaving him pale and bony. Still, he's upbeat.
"Wow," he says, seeing the fanfare. "This is great."
They drive through the storm to his grandparents' house, where he sits on the sofa and tells them about the explosion. The Iraq war is on the television news, but his family ignores it. They are riveted by his story. The rain beats on the windows. He doesn't remember the first week in the hospital, but he has a flashbulb memory of the explosion.
"It was a big boom under my seat like a garbage can was hit with a baseball bat "BOOM!" he says. "And I thought: Who's going to be OK, who's not?"
Going into his second tour, he tried not to think about being killed or maimed.
"I guess maybe to keep myself sane," he says. "You can't think about that kind of thing too much or you can't do your job. Until the second IED [improvised explosive device] , I thought if you were that close to one, it would kill you, so I was kind of shocked I wasn't because we were right on top of it."
His uncle, Ralph Fitzgerald II, tears up.
"This war's become very personal to me now," he says.
Jordan tells them about the toughness of the Marine amputees in the hospital.
"Look at them," he says. "I can't even be worried about myself."
Two days later, he goes with his family to the Church of the Holy Spirit-Orchard Hills, where the parishioners pray for him, lay hands on him. He says: Thank you, I feel better already.
The next day, he has his first appointment at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salem, where he's to undergo checkups, physical and occupational rehabilitation, and a post-traumatic stress evaluation.