Marine Injured in Iraq Says He Would Fight Again
By: Hazel Trice Edney
Originally posted 6/18/2003
BETHESDA, Md. (NNPA)—Lance Corp. LeVon A. Rogers, fighting temperatures above 100 degrees and an unseen enemy, was closing in on Baghdad with a convoy of 20 U.S. Marines assigned to the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment when there was a dramatic change in plans.
“We had gotten done restocking [ammunition] and we were just getting ready to pull out,” he recalls. “We were about to go back to our pause, our site where we spent the night.”
But before they could get there, Rogers heard the faint sound of a whistle and then a boom, apparently the sound of Iraqi mortar fire landing 15 feet away. Motionless troops braced for another round.
“It made no sense running when you don’t even know where it’s going to land,” Rogers explains. “I knew that first mortar round had dropped. I knew it came kind of close. That’s how I could tell we were under attack. And that’s when I heard a second round come off.”
The second round struck a target—Rogers.
“I heard the impact. I heard some ringing in my ears,” he recalls. “I felt like a rock kicked up and hit me in the boot or something. I started walking around seeing what was going on. And I noticed that my foot started feeling squishy in my boot. That’s when I looked back and looked down and saw blood. I hopped around the corner and people were running for cover. The last guy I saw, I told him I can’t make it. I’m hurt. He came back to help me out.”
These days, Rogers is getting help at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in suburban Washington, D.C. And he, like 500 others who were injured in Iraq, is among the fortunate ones. Approximately 177 of the unfortunate ones have died.
“When he first got here you could read a newspaper through it,” says Dr. Martin A. Morse, referring to the injured ankle. Morse has performed two reconstructive surgeries on Rogers’ ankle. Carefully changing the bandages as Rogers grimaced with pain, Morse says the swelling could take one or two years to come down completely. “I’d be willing to bet he’ll do very, very well.”
Rogers is doing as well as can be expected as he recovers from the injury caused by a piece of shrapnel that pierced through his right ankle. He describes the shrapnel as being as long as a football and wider than a banana.
The 22-year-old native of Maywood, Ill., regrets being unable to stay and help stabilize war-ravaged Iraq. But he is proud to have fought.
“It was worth it because I actually did something,” he explains. “I’m not really into the politics side of it. My mission was just to go in there and kick the bad guy out. Unfortunately he wasn’t there when we got there.”
In the background, a familiar voice chuckles heartily at the reference to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It’s Rogers’ mother, Arlene D. Sanders. And she has her own story to tell.
Her ordeal began on Monday, April 7, with a telephone voice mail at the U. S. Postal Service in Maywood, where she works as an instructor and trainer.
Her sister-in-law had left a message saying that she needed to return a call to Camp Pendleton in San Diego, Calif. “It’s about LeVon.” Sanders wrote down the information, but clutched the paper in her hand, unable to say anything until a co-worker asked what was wrong.
“I need to call this guy about LeVon,” Sanders told her co-worker. “I’m not calling that number.” So her co-worker dialed the number and passed the phone to her. It was Staff Sgt. Javier Medellin on the other end of the line. “Your son is alive,” he told Sanders. She felt momentary relief and braced herself for the next sentence: “He has sustained enemy mortar fire to his right leg.”
Medellin, also of the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment, had no additional information except that Rogers’ injury was not life threatening. He said he didn’t even know the injured Marine’s location.
That wouldn’t satisfy Sanders, who embarked on a desperate search to find her youngest son.
“First, you know they’re in harm’s way. Then you know that they’ve been harmed. But you don’t know anything else,” she recalls. “Everything was going through my mind. It was such a myriad of thoughts going back and forth, up and down, all around. I wasn’t sleeping. I was making myself get up every day going to work. If somebody would say something to me, I might cry. It was very unbearable.”
Four days later, she was able to confirm that her son is on his way to Rota, Spain, for initial treatment. And it was another four days before she was able to speak with him.
“Hi, Mom. I’m back in the states,” Rogers said when his mother picked up the telephone at work.
“I was going through so much stress that when he called, I got loud,” his mother says. “I said, ‘You just don’t know what I’ve been going through.’ Everybody came over to my desk and said, ‘Is that LeVon?’ Everybody was so involved in his injury, you know, it was like that was their child and they wanted to know.”
Reunited with his mother at the hospital, Rogers has propped himself up on one elbow in his bed. “I can’t imagine what she went through,” he says.
Why was a mother’s anguish compounded by not knowing where her son was?
“He moved quickly through the medical system,” says Brig. Gen. Robert Wagner, head of military personnel services for the U. S. Marines. “People transitioned so fast through the medical system that we couldn’t keep up with them. But, we do pass on information to families as soon as we have it.”
Since he has been back, Rogers has had plenty of time to think about what he will do next. He is also considering college for the first time, perhaps a degree in computer technology, at the end of his four-year enlistment.
“I really don’t feel like a hero. I was just doing my job,” he says. “I feel like I wish I was still over there.”
The military does feel Rogers is a hero and awarded him the Purple Heart, the U. S. military’s highest honor for injury or death in combat, at a ceremony in his hospital room in April.
Rogers says he would gladly to back into combat again, if asked.
“I love the Marines,” he says. “They challenge you. It’s like a place of belonging. We’re all bad-attitude-type guys. We take risks. I just hope I wouldn’t get hurt again, that’s all.”