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Iraq War veteran embodies True Grit

May 16, 2009|By TONY MULIERI

Amputee.

Just hearing the word sends a shudder through your soul.

And according to Maj. David Rozelle, who spoke at Tuesday's annual True Grit banquet, it's not a good recruiting tool.

With a gallows-like humor, Rozelle said mothers don't want to hear him recruit their children for military service when he is an amputee.

He lost his right leg below the knee when an antitank mine exploded in Iraq.

And what makes Rozelle so special is he is going back for a third tour of duty in the fall.

Now that is true grit.

The U.S. Army has a warrior in Rozelle.

The True Grit banquet honors Washington County student-athletes who have overcome obstacles to remain part of their teams.

If those 14 athletes were looking for a role model, they found one in Rozelle.

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The True Grit banquet has a way of slapping you back to reality and letting you know your own problems pale in comparison to the stories being told by the athletes getting the awards -- and on this night, the guest speaker.

Rozelle's story is fodder for Hollywood.

He gave a vivid description of the day he was injured. He said when the bomb exploded, there was a serene silence immediately after the blast. He said when he got his wits about him, he realized he was trapped in his vehicle.

He worked his way free, then took the "last step" he would ever take with his right foot. He thought he was stepping into a marsh, but he was in the desert.

He said when medics take away your weapon, you know you're in pretty bad shape. He said blood was everywhere and there was a moment when he didn't know if he would live.

He called it his "Alive Day" and compared it to being a cancer survivor.

As he spoke, you just wanted to go up to the podium, shake his hand and say, "Thank you for your service to our country."

The man is a soldier in every sense of the word.

He spoke of coming back to the United States and rehabilitating his body. You got the impression he had a lot to do with making the new amputee center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., a reality.

He spoke of the movie stars and rock singers who visit the center. They walk in as stars, but once inside, they realize the real heroes are the soldiers who have sacrificed so much so we can live in a free society.

It's not easy finding a speaker for the True Grit banquet, especially one who personifies the meaning of true grit. This time, there was no doubt.

The way Rozelle arrived at Fountain Head Country Club was a story in itself.

When the True Grit organizing committee asked Rozelle to speak, he said he had other commitments that day and time constraints would make it difficult.

Committee member Tom Riford told Tracey Potter, owner of Hagerstown Aircraft Services, about the situation and Potter stepped up to the plate. He and his pilot flew their plane to an airport near Quantico, Va., picked up Rozelle and flew him to Hagerstown. After the banquet, they whisked him back home.

And all of it came at no cost to the True Grit organizing committee.

After hearing Rozelle speak, having him there was priceless.

Tony Mulieri is community editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7647, or by e-mail at tonym@herald-mail.com.

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