Greenfield Marine fights battle at home
Scott Swan/Eyewitness News
Bethesda, MD - The Iraq war produces images of extremes: Funerals and happy homecomings. Eyewitness News brings you a story you don't often see: an Indiana survivor. A Marine from Greenfield was seriously wounded in battle. He has broken bones in his jaw and his mouth is wired shut. A tracheotomy helps him breathe. When I went to Bethesda, Maryland to meet Josh Bleill, I found a Marine who has lost much more, but considers himself thankful.
The Marine uniform symbolizes strength, honor and country. The men and women who answer the call live by the Marine motto "Semper Fidelis." It means "Always faithful" in Latin.
"I love being a Marine, " said 29-year old Lance Corporal Joshua Bleill of Greenfield. Service and sacrifice are in his DNA. "My father was a Marine. He was a fighter pilot and my grandfather on my mother's side served in World War 2. He was shot in the arm," said Bleill.
Lance Corporal Bleill had only been in Iraq for two weeks when a patrol on Sunday, October 15 changed his life forever.
"Our humvee got hit by an IED, an improvised Explosive Device," Bleill said from his hospital room in the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Myra and Virg Bleill have been at their son's bedside since learning the horrible news.
"They said Lance Corporal Joshua Bleill has had traumatic amputation of both legs and I didn't hear another word they said," says Josh's mother Myra Bleill.
"It's still a hard concept to grasp that they are not there," said Bleill from his hospital room. "I still feel like they are there most nights. I touch them more now. Kind of feel them. Lift them up. And experiment with them a little bit," adds Bleill.
He has no memory of the blast. But across the hall from Bleill's room is a Marine who remembers every detail. Tim Lang lies in a hospital room surrounded by his mother and sister.
"It was Sunday afternoon," Lang explained, with Josh's sister and mother standing at the foot of his bed hanging on every word. "We were the 5th vehicle in the convoy. We followed in the same tire tracks to avoid IED's."
Lang says that he was in the same Humvee with Josh Bleill. "I remember this incredible explosion," Lang recalled. "I thought I was dying. I knew what was going on. I knew it was an IED."
Lang's leg suffered multiple fractures when he was thrown out of the Humvee. Two Marines including Sergeant Brock Babb of Evansville and Lance Corporal Joshua Hines of Illinois died in the explosion.
"They were outstanding Marines," Bleill said as tears rolled down his cheek. "To give your life for another man is the ultimate sacrifice. And that's what they did," says Bleill.
His parents realize they are fortunate to have their son alive. "We're lucky. We're the lucky ones," said Josh's father Virg Bleill. Josh's mother is grateful for Tim Lang's response after the blast.
"Tim remembers being put in a vehicle holding Josh's legs and talking to his friend and saying, 'We're going to get out of this' when he had a crushed leg as well," said Myra Bleill.
Now, the warriors of battle examine the scars of war from separate rooms. "It could be a lot worse. I'm very thankful for that," said Bleill. His parents have seen the x-ray of their son's pelvis after doctors spent 11 hours in surgery.
"He has 34 screws down there," Virg Bleill said. Recovery goes beyond physical challenges because Josh sometimes wakes up startled by dreams. "He will say Captain so and so, where is he? Where's my rifle, where's my rifle? And he would lay in bed and assemble his rifle with his hands," Myra Bleill said.
Josh eventually faces the biggest challenge of his life. The man who grew up playing lacrosse at Purdue University and going water skiing will learn to live with artificial legs. "I will have to start to crawl again - so to speak. Then walk. Then run and get back into shape," said Bleill.
Doctors are optimistic about Bleill's recovery. "He''ll be able to progress. Everything he does is going to be based on his positive attitude. If he maintains that, he'll sail right through," said Commander Sarah Martin of National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Bleill used his humor when talking to doctors about the prosthetics. "I said, I have an awkward question. Is there any way I can be taller? The doctor giggled and I said, I'm serious. I don't know why. Growing up, I always wanted to be 6-3. I was 6-1. We're gonna push for 6-3," Bleill chuckled.
Bleill believes he is beginning a new mission. "There are reasons that things happen. There are reasons that this happened. And I have a new mission at hand," says Bleill. He's counting on his family, friends and his faith. "My faith in God stays faithful to accomplish that mission as well," says Bleill. When asked if God has a new purpose for his life, Bleill doesn't hesitate.
"It's something that I have to pray about and see what it is. Maybe it's helping other Marines that get in this same situation," added Bleill. The injured Marine says he's been praying a lot. "I pray a lot for the families that lost people," said Bleill.
He's thankful for the support from friends back in Indiana. Bleill says he has no regrets about serving in the military. "I don't feel like I did something extraordinary cause there's tons of people who do this," said Bleill. "I would definitely serve again. I knew I could do it. And I knew if I did it, then that meant some other young man did not have to go."
When he arrived in Iraq, he went through different emotions. "You're scared. You're excited. You're nervous. You're happy. This is what I've trained to do," said Bleill. He told Eyewitness News that he saw good things in Iraq. Bleill said kids would often wave at the Marines. "You see little children who wave at you like it was a big parade. They just want to wave at you and see you. They were so happy. And you want to give those children a future and help them out," said Bleill.
"When you see those kids and they come up and you give them something and their looks on their faces, it doesn't matter if you're in Iraq or the U.S. That's a good feeling." On November 13, Bleill is scheduled to enter the amputee unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.
"I needed to start changing. I need to say we need to start moving forward now. I need to start getting stronger again. I need to make these legs strong," said Bleill.
Josh Bleill's blog
A chili supper will be held on Friday, Nov. 10, to benefit Josh:
St. Joseph Council Knights of Columbus
4332 North German Church Road