CINCINNATI - An Army ranger from Cincinnati who was severely injured in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan has become an inspiration to the nation after a photograph of him saluting from his hospital bed went viral.
Josh Hargis, of the 3rd Ranger Battalion, suffered serious leg injuries and four members of his unit were killed, according to a report from GuardianofValor.com.
Nevertheless, the 24-year-old "sounded amazing when I talked to him. He was in good spirits," his mother, Laura Heitman, told WCPO, our Scripps station in Cincinnati.
The picture shows a wounded Hargis saluting after his commander pinned the Purple Heart to Hargis' blanket in a hospital bed ceremony. But it doesn't tell the amazing story of Hargis' determination to get into the Army in the first place.
Hargis' wife, Taylor, posted this message to her Facebook page, detailing an emotional letter from her husband's commander. He wrote that Hargis' salute turned the room into tears and called it "the single greatest event I have witnessed in my ten years in the Army."
I received this picture today along with a letter from the commander of the team Josh was a part of on the night of his injuries. A letter to explain to me what kind of man I have the privilege of being married to. He explained to me what happened and what was going on in the picture.
"Josh was seriously wounded as you know and survived for almost two hours after his injury before arriving to the hospital. Josh was immediately pushed through a series of surgeries and emerged hours later into an intensive care unit here at our base in Afghanistan.
"Despite being in intense pain and mental duress, Josh remained alert and compassionate to the limited Rangers that were allowed to visit him bedside. Prior to Josh being moved to Germany for his eventual flight to America, we conducted a ceremony to award him with the Purple Heart for wounds received in action.
"A simple ceremony, you can picture a room full of Rangers, leaders, doctors, and nurses surrounding his bedside while the Ranger Regimental Commander pinned the Purple Heart to his blanket. During the presentation the Commander publishes the official orders verbally and leaned over Josh to thank him for his sacrifice.
"Josh, whom everybody in the room (over 50 people) assumed to be unconscious, began to move his right arm under the blanket in a diligent effort to salute the Commander as is customary during these ceremonies. Despite his wounds, wrappings, tubes, and pain, Josh fought the doctor who was trying to restrain his right arm and rendered the most beautiful salute any person in that room had ever seen. I cannot impart on you the level of emotion that poured through the intensive care unit that day.
"Grown men began to weep and we were speechless at a gesture that speak volumes about Josh's courage and character. The picture, which we believe belongs on every news channel and every newspaper, is attached. I have it hanging above my desk now and will remember it as the single greatest event I have witnessed in my ten years in the Army."
Hargis' story of bravery began with his own determination through several failed efforts to get into the Army. He took his case all the way to Washington, his mother said.
"It took him a long time to get into the Army after high school because he had a skiing accident and broke his femur, and they wouldn't accept him," Heitman said.
He worked as a server at a restaurant in northern Kentucky, but never gave up hope of becoming a ranger.
"He was just very determined. He wanted so bad to be a ranger. After three or four times, he wrote to the surgeon general and got accepted from the surgeon general," his mother said. "After he went to Fort Benning, they asked him to join the rangers right out of boot camp. It was a great honor."
Hargis was in a bomb unit and was paired with a bomb-sniffing dog. His dog was killed in the attack, his mother said. This was his fourth tour of Afghanistan.
Hargis' wife is expecting their first child, Heitman said.
The couple met at Fort Benning when she came from Florida to visit her brother.
"They happened to meet and hit it off," his mother said.
Hargis' sister Angela, who also is in the Army, is stationed at Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio, Texas.
On her Facebook page, Angela posted: "I can't believe how much attention his story is getting. I'm so proud of my brother."
She expected to see her brother soon. Josh was being flown to the Army hospital at Fort Sam Houston Tuesday for more treatment.
"We're happy the Army was able to send him there," Heitman said.
Hargis' mother said she has been getting daily updates from the Army on her son's condition.
When she talked to him, though, she said Josh was more concerned about her than himself.
She has breast cancer and recently finished chemotherapy. Her cancer is in remission, she said.
"He really wanted to know how I'm doing. He was more worried about me," she said.
Terri Wessel said she taught Hargis while he was in high school and called his concern for his mother "typical Josh ... worried about others first."
"Seeing the picture of him saluting was the first I knew of him being injured. I teared up when I saw the picture but smiled at the same time as that picture summed up the type of man that Josh is. True American hero in my mind," Wessel said.
"I am keeping Josh, his family and his fallen brothers in my prayers and am thankful for the men and women like them that serve this great nation," Wessel said.