All this week, KTAR will be bringing you the lives and stories of the 2015 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade grand marshals in a series entitled A Profile in Courage.
GILBERT, Ariz. — Retired Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg said he wants all veterans to remember one thing ahead of Veterans Day: “You’re not alone.”
As he focused, carefully delivering those words in his dining room in Gilbert, Arizona, you can tell he’s speaking from experience.
Remsburg, 32, knew he wanted to be in the military for long as he could remember. Born in Glendale and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, he told his family when he was 17 he wanted to join the Army and hoped for his parents’ approval and signature. He got the approval, but not the signature.
“His sister was serving active duty, I was serving in the reserve,” Cory’s dad, Craig, said. “It wasn’t we were anti-military, it was more like ‘Let’s think of this, you have some time.’”
Craig knocked on the wooden table in front of him. He remembers that sound on his door at 5:30 a.m. the day Cory turned 18.
“’Dad, I don’t need you to sign now, I can do this myself,’” Craig recalled Cory telling him.
That day, Cory signed up to be an Army Ranger.
On his tenth deployment in the Middle East in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, Cory was sent to Afghanistan. An improvised explosive device (IED) went off on the side of the road he and seven other members of his unit were traveling on. The explosion threw him into a canal. He landed facedown in a pool of water, with a severe wound to the head. Craig remembers that fateful call.
“I immediately said ‘Hi Cory, how you doin’?’ A guy answered and said, ‘This is Cory’s company commander, and Cory’s been hurt,’” he said. “’There was an explosion. Cory was found underwater, he wasn’t breathing, he had a hole in his head, there’s something wrong with his eye, he’s got cuts, burns, his lungs are collapsed.
“‘But he’s alive.’”
Cory spent three months in a coma. With his family by his side and constant encouragement with familiar scents and sounds, he regained consciousness on his own.
The injuries Cory endured that day in Afghanistan are still visible. He is blind in his right eye. He still suffers from paralysis in his legs and one arm. His speech struggles.
“He’s not letting all of this stuff get in the way,” Craig said.
President Barack Obama knows it too. During his State of the Union Address in 2014, Cory was the guest of honor of First Lady Michelle Obama. In his speech, the president said “Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up and he does not quit.” His words were followed by a standing ovation lasting nearly two minutes.
Cory might as well have the president on speed dial.
“He’s a very genuine guy,” Cory said.
He’s met Obama six times, including a surprise visit from the president during a March visit to the Phoenix area.
The Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient roams his Gilbert home with the assistance of a wheelchair. The home is equipped with special technology that helps him with his healing. It was donated to Cory by the Army Ranger Lead the Way Fund and Jared Allen Homes for Wounded Veterans.
If it weren’t for the medals on the wall, the dozens of magazines and newspaper articles written about him and the pictures with notable figures, Cory would just be a guy sharing his story, though his schedule is probably busier than most: Between participating in events and activities with fellow wounded veterans, he also allows his home to be used for teaching purposes in the occupational therapy field.
“Cory is involved in several charities that raise money for wounded veterans,” Craig, who nominated his son to serve as a veteran grand marshal in the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 11, explained.
Among the many organization Cory supports is Gallant Few, which connects newly-returned soldiers with hometown veteran mentors to help them transition back to civilian life. For Cory, it’s one of his main purposes.
“When there’s a critical message that comes across — somebody’s hurting,” Craig explained. “Cory gets involved and people can reach out and help that person.”
“You can’t stop all suicides,” Cory said. “But you can stop the next one.”
Life ahead for Remsburg is bright. As he and his father guided me through his home, Craig explains the goal is for Cory to gain back his independence and maybe find love.
“I’m not getting any younger,” Cory joked.