May 11, 2005 – near Al Qaim, Iraq
When the roadside bomb exploded, tossing the 26 ton vehicle 10 feet in to the air, my son, marine combat correspondent Cpl. Aaron Mankin’s first reaction was to gasp, inhaling smoke, heat and debris. In addition to the damage to his lungs, Aaron suffered second and third degree burns on his hands, arms and face. He had his goggles on, which saved his eyes and forehead.
Six weeks later – Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX
Aaron’s voice was barely a harsh whisper after the intense heat of the explosion had seared his vocal cords. The one word he would whisper to me over and over was “kiss.” I would never hesitate, knowing I almost lost the chance to ever kiss him again.
Once he was moved out of the Intensive Care Burn Unit and onto the main burn ward, visitors were free to come into the rooms after obtaining permission from the patients.
One visitor Aaron agreed to see was an army general with his son, who was also in uniform, and two of the general’s staff members. They entered the room when I had stepped out, and I was unaware of their presence until I walked back in. Aaron’s back was to me when I returned, and I stood just inside the door, listening and not wanting to interrupt.
When he became aware of my presence, Aaron raised his arm, motioning for me to come to his side. He looked up as I came close and whispered, “Kiss.” I leaned down and did as he asked before being introduced to the others in the room.
The general and his group quickly said their good-byes, and as he walked up to me, I noticed tears in his eyes. He hugged me with the desperation of a father, not a general, who had just seen the reality of what his own son might face one day…
Are you ready for what you may one day face?