Greenfield Marine learns to walk again

Josh Bleill works out to improve his upper body strength.
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Scott Swan/Eyewitness News

Greenfield - A Greenfield Marine who lost both legs in an attack in Iraq is taking on the biggest mission of his life - to walk again. Josh Bleill spent nearly a year recovering on the East Coast. He promised he wouldn't come back to Indiana until he could walk off the plane.

Over the past ten months, our cameras documented Josh's amazing journey. Our story ends with a promise kept and a mission accomplished.

Lance Corporal Josh Bleill is on a mission. "I'm really excited to get my legs, because I told I wouldn't go home until I'm walking," he said.

The Greenfield native is getting ready for the biggest challenge since the day that changed his life. In October 2006, a roadside bomb exploded near Josh's Humvee in Iraq. Two of Josh's fellow Marines were killed.

"They both - they're outstanding marines. True examples," Josh said.

Josh broke his jaw and lost both legs above the knee.

"It's still a hard concept to grasp that they're not there. I still feel like they're there most nights. I touch them more now, kind of feel them. Lift them up and experiment with them a little bit."

We first met Josh at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. It was 12 days after the explosion. Josh's mother Myra and his father Virg Bleill, a former Marine himself, knew it could have been worse.

"We're lucky," said Myra Bleill, his mother. "We're the lucky ones."

Doctors put 34 pins and a screw in Josh's battered hip. It was one of six surgeries Josh would undergo in his long recovery.

Josh's mom learned the details of the explosion from Tim Lang, another Marine injured in the blast.

"We were on mounted patrol," Lang said. "I remember this incredible explosion."

Tim Lang would eventually need his own leg amputated. "I thought I was dying," he said.

"Tim remembers is 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.

Josh's body changed, but his attitude didn't. "There's reasons that things happen. There's reasons that this happened and I have a new mission at hand," he said.

Two months after the blast, Josh continues his mission of recovery at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.

"Missing my legs, it's a different world. It's learning how to crawl," said Josh.

This Marine focuses on one goal: strengthening his body in preparation for prosthetics. In December, the day finally came. For the first time, he practiced with an artificial leg. A physical therapist coached him on how to balance.

"It was the first time I stood since October 15th - the day we were hit in Iraq - so it was a great feeling," said Josh. "I have my left leg now - which is exciting. And I'm working on that until I get my other leg in another month."

The long road back is marked with daily therapy and visitors, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Sam Perkins and former Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole.

When the Colts won the Super Bowl, Josh was there, lifting himself out of the wheelchair with excitement. Many of the players came to the hospital after the victory to say hello. Jim Irsay brought the trophy.

President Bush brought something too: the Purple Heart.

Josh's parents made frequent trips from Indiana to see their son, watching him become stronger.

Staff were impressed as Josh did push-ups and other exercises to get in shape.

"He is upbeat, positive. He always has a smile on his face. He works hard. He works himself to fatigue. For me, I have to hold him back," said Annette Burgeron, physical therapist.

In March, Josh reached the next milestone in his mission. His parents watched as the 30-year-old took his first steps with both of his new, prosthetic legs.

"Kind of feels like walking on stilts," he said. "This is unbelievable."

They are the first steps he's taken in six months.

"Who would have thought that losing your legs, you'd have to learn to walk again. But I'm learning it," said Josh.

In July, Josh's parents shot home video of their son. It's nine months into the recovery. The man walking beside Josh is the same Marine who stayed with him on the battlefield, Tim Lang - fellow Marines, both amputees.

Josh was finally getting ready to leave the hospital and make his first trip back to Indiana. He intended to do that on his own terms. "I told myself from the very beginning, that I don't want to go until when I walk home. When I do have my legs, when I walk home, I'll walk off that airplane."

In August, his family gathered at Indianapolis International to watch Josh make good on the promise. The Marine who never gave up was not only coming home for the first time since the explosion. He walked home. His sister greeted him with a hug. "You're taller than me again. I know," she said.

After ten months, Josh's mission was finally complete.

"It's awesome to come back home to this," he said.

Camp Sertoma is holding a Support Our Troops fundraiser Saturday night. Call 833-0025 or click here for details.