Inspiration to a nation comes to Chicago

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For a time, he was an inspiration to the nation, a symbol of courage that managed to unify, for however briefly, a hyperpartisan Washington.

If you’ve forgotten, let us remind you.

He is U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, recently retired from service, whom President Barack Obama singled out in his State of the Union speech for courageously serving 10 tours in combat until he was nearly killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Remsburg was in a coma for more than six months, left blind in one eye, yet he learned to walk again and to talk again.

Bearing visible injuries, Remsburg stood with the help of his father on that night of the nationally televised speech on Jan. 28, to thunderous, emotional applause.

It was the longest standing ovation at a State of the Union in recent memory.

“It was the overall picture of the wounded warrior,” Cory Remsburg said in an interview last week. “I just happened to be the face.”

Cory and his father, Craig, sat down with Early & Often while in Chicago on a visit from their home in Arizona last week.

His speech is laborious, purposeful. Father and son act as a team, with Craig Remsburg often expanding on Cory’s thoughts.

The two described the “village approach” that’s contributing to Cory’s recovery, in what’s snowballed into an outpouring of support from people around the country. Charities have stepped up to aid Cory in everything from traveling to different facilities to retrofitting his parents’ home and even buying Cory his own home. The 31-year-old has a goal of living independently. He’s building his strength with walking.

“I’m working on balance now,” Cory said. “I have the motor function to move my feet forward; now I have to keep my balance.”

The universe of charitable giving includes Chicago.

Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen, through his charity Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors, has paid to retrofit Cory’s Phoenix home so it is accessible to Cory, who uses a wheelchair.

“Not only have we met Jared several times coming over to the house, we sit down at this big table because the house has been gutted, doors and everything is coming off,” Craig Remsburg said. “Everything is going to be redone. And we got this table and we’re sitting around this table for about two hours. Going though every inch on what’s being done. What does Cory need? And at the very end, everybody’s kind of a little tired and they looked at Cory and they said, ‘Cory, is there anything else?’ and without hesitation Cory looked at them and said: ‘Tiki bar. I want a tiki bar.”

So Allen stepped up. Cory is getting a tiki bar in the backyard beside a 30-foot pool with a hot tub.

“Got my priorities,” Cory says, smiling.

Wearing a black Rangers shirt, Cory remains proud of his military service. He says he would return to combat in a heartbeat if they’d let him.

That’s despite enduring lengthy hospitalization, including a coma that left his family wondering if he’d ever wake up.

Then the day came when Cory opened one eye.

“It’s not Hollywood. It’s nothing like that at all,” says Craig, describing it instead as “long, drawn-out, painstaking. You know, you capture the moment and then you wait another two months.”

They soon adopted their own simplified sign language: thumbs-up, thumbs-down and … the single-finger salute.

Craig said it took Cory a year to eat on his own, but “he just didn’t give up.” Doctors and nurses said this guy is “wired differently.”

As he recovers, Cory hopes to act as a hopeful beacon to wounded warriors and anyone else suffering from traumatic brain injury.

“To hopefully make the first time for others with the TBI easier,” Cory said of his immediate goals. He has taken part in some medical studies, including a six-week stay in Dallas where his brain injury was studied.

On the day of the interview, Craig said he had received another call about getting experimental treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

“Cory shows that appreciation,” his father said. “He knows that a lot of people have come to his side.”

Next fall, Cory hopes to start college, maybe at Arizona State. He wants to marry and have children one day.

He and his dad agree more services should be available for vets at a local level.

“The socialization of these troops coming back home, getting out of the military, serving their time, seeing things that most people will never understand and getting them back into society,” Craig said. “And [help] doesn’t have to be monetary…have some type of activity that recognizes them or helps them come in, finding a job, finding that VA loan to get a home.”

Cory plans to advocate for veterans as he continues traveling the country.

What would Cory tell politicians?

“Let the voice of the veteran be heard.”

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