Former White House speechwriter @TSzuplat reconnected with a brain-injured soldier that he wrote about during the Obama years. He found that Cory Remsburg's story didn't end so neatly. Photographs by @PeteSouza https://t.co/u4yiWB0Nzr
— Intelligencer (@intelligencer) November 10, 2019
He was, for a time, the most well-known veteran in America.
On the evening of January 28, 2014, Cory Remsburg, an elite Army Ranger grievously wounded in Afghanistan, sat next to First Lady Michelle Obama in the balcony of the House chamber as President Obama delivered his annual State of the Union address. As one of the president’s speechwriters, I watched from the floor below, crowded among congressional and White House staff.
Nearing the end of his speech, Obama described how, on Cory’s tenth deployment, a bomb blast had thrown him into a canal, where his fellow soldiers found him facedown, underwater, unconscious, with a punctured skull. Across the country, television screens cut to Cory, with a lean build, close-cropped brown hair, piercing blue eyes, and striking in his dress blue uniform — a bow tie and a chestful of colorful ribbons and commendations…
This October 1 marked a decade since the explosion. Cory has now spent more years working to recover from his injuries than he did serving on active duty in the war zones — one of the approximately 5,000 veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq with penetrating head wounds who have returned home to live with their catastrophic injuries for decades to come. In advance of this milestone, I asked Cory and his parents for permission to follow him for the year.
I wanted to see the unvarnished reality of his life after the applause…
Over the past year, I spoke with Cory and his parents about two dozen times, in person and by telephone, often for an hour or more. I visited him at military and veterans’ hospitals and at his home in Arizona, where he granted me and photographer Pete Souza unprecedented access to his daily life. I spoke with more than 30 of Cory’s family, friends, fellow Rangers, doctors, and therapists.
I soon learned, as his brother had warned me, how dark the journey could get…
Remsburg was a 26-year-old at the height of his powers; now he’s a 35-year old whose parents are his full-time caregivers. Someone learning, over and over every day, how much he’ll never again do for himself… from driving to putting on deodorant.