VFW Magazine — February 2013
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Quadruple Amputees Overcome Horrific Odds
Janie Blankenship

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have produced five living quadruple amputees. VFW offers a glimpse into the lives of three. The other two were previously featured.

For two months, Marine Sgt. John Peck was in a medically induced coma. He was severely wounded on May 24, 2010, becoming the second quadruple amputee from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to survive. (Brendan Marrocco was the first. He was profiled in the October 2010 issue of VFW. Another, Todd Nicely, was featured in VFW in February 2011. )

Serving with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, Peck was wounded in Afghanistan’s Helmand province when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). He underwent 27 surgeries and 81 blood transfusions, yet his outlook is good.

“It just makes the people around me uncomfortable,” Peck told the News-Sun (Lake County, Ill.) In regard to having a negative attitude. “I don’t want to be one of those guys nobody wants to be around.”

VFW Post 4551 in Antioch Township, Ill., was the host for Peck’s official homecoming on May 9, 2011, with a blood drive held in his honor at the Post. By mayoral proclamation, that day also was declared “John Peck Day” in the township.

“I am happy to see how the community supports him,” said Ted Hudson, then-Post commander. “It’s the very least we can do, and it is what all veterans do for each other.”

His homecoming also included center court seats at a Chicago Bulls basketball game and numerous television interviews.

“I never expected him to be this far along in his recovery and to come home less than a year later,” Peck’s father, Zenio, said. “Whatever direction he chooses for his future he will get there and we will support him.”

The 26-year-old hopes to receive a double-arm transplant, and then possibly attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York to become a chef. He would like to one day open his own restaurant, he says.

Thanks to Building for America’s Bravest—a partnership between the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation— a “smart home” is being built in Virginia for Peck. The group also has built similar homes for other severely wounded veterans.

Among the home’s features are cabinets that mechanically lower to wheelchair height when necessary and lights controlled by motion detectors. Much of the home can be operated by an iPad. At press time, Peck was due to move into his new home the first of this year.


That same home-building group also plans to build a similar home for Army StaffSgt. Travis Mills, who lost all four limbs on April 10, 2012, during his third tour in Afghanistan.

Serving with B Trp., 4th Sqdn., 73rd Cav, 4th BCT, 82nd Airborne, Mills set his bag down accidentally on an IED while on patrol. A medic affixed tourniquets to all four of Mills’ limbs so he wouldn’t bleed to death. And while his life was spared but not his limbs, he doesn’t dwell on this.

“I just had a bad day at work,” he told the Associated Press. “It happened. I can’t change the fact that it happened. I can’t turn back time.”

His wife, Kelsey, said that she admires her husband’s attitude. She also jokes that he is the real Superman.

“It’s amazing to see just how lucky he is,” she said. “I mean, he’s the luckiest unlucky guy.”

Mills’ recovery is expected to take a full year. But in a very short time, Mills’ perseverance has paid off. The first day he began to walk on his prosthetic legs, he walked the entire track at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He patiently learned to use his artificial hand to feed his baby daughter, Chloe, who was just four months old when he left for Afghanistan the final time.

“Now I can watch my little girl grow up and see my wife and family again,” the Vassar, Mich., native said. “I didn’t die, so that’s good. You’ve got to look at the positive things.”

The people of Vassar are making his attitude brighter with their support, he said. Trees, lamp posts and telephone poles are adorned with yellow or red, white and blue ribbons. There are signs in businesses offering support to the Mills family.

Vassar High School Principal Paul Wojno said that if he had to pick one graduate who could endure such adversity as losing all four limbs, he would have picked Mills.

Like so many other war amputees, Mills scoffs at the notion he is a hero.

“Just because stuffhappened to me, I don’t think it makes me a hero,” said Mills, 25. “I think it just makes me a guy who did his job, knew the consequences of what could happen and something happened.” When the 82nd

Came home to Ft. Bragg, N.C., last September, Mills kept his promise and was there standing at attention to greet his fellow soldiers.

“Honestly, they are working hard overseas every day,” he told the Dallas Morning News. “I better be working hard wherever I’m at doing whatever I can do to get better.”


Last September, Navy explosive ord– nance disposal (EOD) technician Taylor Morris accompanied his girlfriend, Danielle Kelly, to a wedding in their hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa. The two danced the night away, like any other young couple.

But only five months earlier on May 20, 2012, Morris lost all four limbs when he stepped on an IED in Kandahar province in Afghanistan, making him the fifth quadruple amputee to survive. He was serving with the Navy’s EOD Mobile Unit 12.

“There was a moment, then I heard the blast,” Morris told website The Chive. “I knew I had lost my legs. As I somersaulted through the air, I watched my legs fly off.”

Bleeding out quickly, Morris remained conscious, ordering medics to stay back until a second EOD tech had cleared the area of explosives.

He lost both legs at the knee, his left arm at the elbow and his right hand. At press time, he and Kelly were living in an apartment on the Walter Reed campus so that he could continue his rehabilitation. “I wouldn’t say that anything has really Changed in me or I have changed feelings about anything,” Morris told the Ft. Bragg Patch. “Maybe I’m just getting more positive and realizing it is possible to have a better future than I originally thought.”

He has learned to send texts to his friends from his iPhone using a stylus Velcroed to the stub of his arm. With his prosthetic hand, he can eat and do other simple tasks.

“Walking was my biggest accomplishment,” he said. “I cannot explain how good it felt to stand and be vertical again.” Kelly, who has been by Morris’ side since he was flown to Walter Reed, said she was a mess not knowing what to expect after she first learned he had been wounded.

“I was so scared of the moment I would see Taylor for the first time,” said Kelly, Morris’ high school sweetheart. “I didn’t know if I would want to run, break down and cry, get sick or how I would react. But honestly, when I saw him I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I knew everything was going to be okay.”

Kelly said the support shown to her and Morris has been tremendous, but that the pair are just normal 24-year-olds. She quit her real estate job and moved into a hotel room next to the hospital. Morris’ mom, Juli, also stayed in the same hotel during his recovery and his dad and other family members visited often.

The pair has always wanted to live in a cabin on a lake in Iowa. The outdoor adventurers who met when they were both 15 want enough land on which to go Hiking and four wheeling. But for now, Kelly said they are just taking things one day at a time.

“It is hard to think far in the future,” she said. “Plus, if there is one thing we have learned, it’s that you can plan out life as much as you want, but life has a plan of its own. We are just along for the ride.”

After The Chive published the online article about Morris, a request was made to raise $30,000 to help with the pair’s cabin-in-the-woods dream. In just 45 minutes, $27,000 had been garnered and only a few days later, the total was $230,000.

“I had no expectations for this,” Morris said. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

E-MAIL jblankenship@vfw.org

Amputees Reflect Life-Saving Methods

Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan first began, the U.S. military has seen nearly 1,672 limb amputations—459 of those are multiple amputees. Of that number, 43 lost three limbs. Five are quadruple amputees and they are:

Brendan Marrocco
John Peck
Todd Nicely
Travis Mills
Taylor Morris.

The Army Surgeon General’s Office reported last June that while U.S. troops have suffered significant physical wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq, more are surviving due to body armor.

Another life-saving factor is the Pentagon’s decision to place more highly skilled medical personnel on helicopters taking the wounded off the battlefield.

“We believe that by placing this higher-level medical capability farther forward faster, that we will be able to save the lives of more of these service members,” Brig. Gen. Bart Iddins, Air Force Air Mobility Command surgeon, told USA Today last June.