A warrior's heart: Army Ranger comes home injured, wants to return to combat
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 1, 2010 1:50 AM
Army Ranger Cory Remsburg looks up at his girlfriend Amber Wood, holding family friend Brayden Anderson, at a celebration in his honor held Friday at Amber's home in Princeton.
With his father, Craig, behind him, Cory shakes hands with a member of the Johnston County Sheriff's Office.
PRINCETON -- Ask Cory Remsburg how he feels and, after a long pause, he says "strong" in a voice those who know him hardly recognize.
Watch him make his way, from a wheelchair, around his girlfriend's home and you might not believe that he wishes he was back in the desert -- that several weeks ago he traveled to Savannah, Ga., to visit with his comrades before they began another tour in Afghanistan.
For the seasoned Army Ranger, recovering physically from the Improvised Explosive Device blast that left him lifeless in a canal last October isn't the real battle.
His greatest challenge is coping with the fact that in his heart, he still longs to be on the front lines with his comrades -- even if his body simply won't allow him to be one of them.
So as he made his way to a house just beyond the Wayne County line Friday afternoon, to the hero's welcome organized by family members, friends and the woman he has loved since their eyes met more than two years ago, it was bittersweet.
Their support, he said, has been "humbling."
But it hasn't changed the fact that he still sees himself as just another soldier -- one who prays for the strength to, again, answer his country's call.
"What do you hope for Cory? What is your dream for the future?" his father, Craig, asked him.
"To be back in the Army," Cory replied.
Moments earlier, more than 40 motorcycles rumbled down Lisa Drive -- the red van transporting the young soldier rolling somewhere in the middle of the pack.
And as, one by one, those in the procession pulled up to the home of Cory's girlfriend, Amber Wood, a crowd was waiting to greet them.
Shelby Ostendorf was among those who approached the van when it finally came to a stop.
Cory is her youngest brother.
So she leaned in through the window and gave him a kiss before he was helped into the wheelchair in which he would spend the rest of the afternoon.
"When they told me, 'head injury,' I knew how serious it was," said Shelby, an Air Force Reserve nurse. "And the doctors, they weren't sure if he would lose his personality, if he would be the same person he was before ... but Cory has defied all of them. He's a surprise every day."
"We've been to too many funerals, so it's good to be a part of a homecoming," said Larry Bronson, one of the members of the Patriot Guard Riders who escorted Cory from the North Carolina border to that reception in Princeton. "These welcome home rides are really rewarding."
But had you asked Cory's family several months ago if he would ever make it out of the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, they might not have predicted it.
"It's a miracle," the soldier's father said. "We must have angels dancing all around us."
Cory had, after all, nearly been killed by that IED.
And he had spent more than three months in a coma.
"It really is a miracle that he's alive. It just wasn't in God's plan for him to die," Amber said. "But it's still devastating. You see it happen to everyone else, but you never think it'll happen to you."
Shelby's husband, Eric, agreed that Cory's injury brought the war home -- even for him, an Air Force aviator with a combat tour in Iraq to his credit.
"For me, everything changed after Cory's incident," he said. "When you're in a (fighter jet), you always know how urgent it is when you get those calls over the radio, but with Cory, now, I kind of understand it on a different level. The guys on the ground, they were always my brothers and sisters, but, now, it really was my brother."
Those who turned out for Cory's homecoming know he still has a long way to go -- that in a few days, he will return to Tampa for more therapy.
But the fact that he is talking, the way he smiled as he ran a hand across the back of his "favorite dog," Woody, gives them hope that one day, he will be able to function like he did before that blast.
"I told Cory if anyone could do it, it was him," Shelby said.
So while the outcome, for their beloved, remains unclear, they hold close those things they do know for sure.
"He is a hero," Amber's aunt, Lynne Carroll said. "Because of men like him, I have my freedom."
"If it wasn't for God, he wouldn't be here," added Bob Connell, another one of the riders who escorted Cory to Princeton. "This is a boy. This is a young kid. We need to honor our troops more."
Amber simply holds on to her love for a man who sacrificed for his country.
"I told him that I would be there for him every step of the way," she said.
And then there is Cory, who, after a pause, reaffirmed his commitment to the cause of freedom he nearly died defending.
"Thank you Cory. Thank you for all you did," another rider said before getting back on his motorcycle and leaving the site.
"It was my pleasure," the soldier replied.