(WTOL) – As the U.S. continues fighting wars on two fronts, many folks do not always think about the men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But an Ohio couple, whose son was injured in Iraq, wants to make sure folks remember.
From the time Justin Reynolds was a young boy, he knew what he wanted to do when he grew up – and his family knew he would wear a military uniform someday.
In fact, he loved playing with GI Joes and reading books about war.
Ann Reynolds, Justin's mother, remembers when a librarian said her son's school would need more military books because Justin had read them all.
Reynolds' grew into a big young man. In fact, after deciding to join the Marines he was told he had to lose 100 pounds before they would accept him – and he did.
"I was proud, very proud," said Ann Reynolds. "I've always been proud of him, but that was a proud moment for his father and I."
When Reynolds was shipped to fight in Anbar province, Iraq, in late 2004, the fighting was intense.
When a second tour followed, Marine Lance Corporal Reynolds was driving a Humvee when it was hit by an improvised explosive device or IED.
Ann Reynolds says when her son called, he told her he had been in a car accident. "I said 'a car accident?' And he said, 'Yeah, I hit an IED.' And I said, 'that's a car accident alright.'" Reynolds also told her mother he was sure his leg was destroyed.
However, his leg was still intact, but he did have a broken ankle, dislocated toe and knee ripped open by shrapnel.
While Reynolds was recuperating in North Carolina, doctors told his family a virus had attacked his brain.
After a harsh course of antibiotics and steroids, the virus finally disappeared. However, after a year and a-half, Reynolds relapsed and the virus waged war on the young Marine's brain.
Ann Reynolds said her son's doctors called and said the virus had come back -- her son was dying.
Instead, the virus robbed Reynolds of his speech and motor skills. Now he responds with a smile and laugh. And, for example, the blink of an eye means yes.
His parents – and others know that he hears and feels.
Reynolds' mother says the last words she heard him speak were to apologize. "'I'm sorry Mom, I'm so sorry.' And I said 'Justin, you don't have to be sorry for anything.'"
U.S. Marine Justin Reynolds fought bravely for his country, earning the Purple Heart.
Doctors are still uncertain about where the mystery virus came from, even after MRIs, spinal taps and cat scans.
But, Ann and Robert Reynolds believe the virus came from chemicals in the improvised explosive device.
It took a while, but Reynolds' parents finally learned how to navigate their way through the V. A. or Veterans Administration. However, that was only after Reynolds paid for a year of his own acute care in a nursing home.
Now, Reynolds says she thinks the government officials understand she and her husband do not give up.
However, Reynolds admits on some days she feels like she cannot go on, but says when she thinks of her son, the Marine – that keeps her going. After all, she says, he never gives up and neither will she.
In the past year and a-half, Robert Reynolds has had three heart attacks and battled lung cancer.
"Sometimes you sit and think about yourself and then you think about Justin," said Robert Reynolds. "…what I have is nothing. Justin inspires me to live."
The Reynolds' wanted their son's story told because they never want folks to forget about those who serve their country.
"You just don't realize what these men and women do, how much they go through, how much they do sacrifice," said Ann Reynolds.
The Marines motto, "Semper Fi," meaning always faithful, was -- and certainly is true of Marine Lance Corporal Retired Justin Reynolds.