4 Veterans’ Stories: A Look at Heroes Returning Home

These service members show that heroism continues off the battlefield, too.

Sgt. Jesse Cottle: A Healing Love Story

jesse and kelly beach
Mark Feinauer
jesse and kelly cottle
Kelly Willardson
In July 2009, Marine Staff Sergeant Jesse Cottle was in his sixth year of service in the Corps when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan. He knew the blast was bad. In fact, he thought it was the end and he had two regrets: He’d never get to finish Dreamcatcher by Stephen King, and he’d never know what it was like to be a husband and father. Thanks to the work of doctors, he survived after enduring several operations at several different hospitals. However, both of his legs had to be amputated.

One weekend, while he was with his parents in Phoenix, the Forresters, friends of his family, invited the Cottles to see their daughter, Kelly—a record-setting collegiate swimmer—compete in a meet. Jesse went, and it was one of the first times he was on his new prosthetic legs. He was instantly stunned by Kelly and her beauty, and by her warm personality when the two families had dinner together after the meet. Jesse and Kelly became friends because they were both in other relationships, but gradually they fell in love. As Kelly said in American Heroes on the Homefront: The Hearts of Heroes, “I don’t just love Jesse in spite of his injuries, I love him because of them.” The couple married in 2012.

Jesse received a Bronze Star with a Combat V for valor, and he and Kelly live in San Diego. P.S. And he finally finished Dreamcatcher!

Sgt. Charlie Linville: A Sense of Humor

charlie and his daughter
Challenged Athletes Foundation
As an explosive ordnance disposal technician, Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Charlie Linville would defuse as many as 40 bombs on a typical day on duty in Afghanistan. In January 2011, he and his team were conducting a routine sweep when Sgt. Linville was struck by a device and he was blasted into the air. He was immediately evacuated and then treated in several hospitals, ending up at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. His wife, Mandi (his high-school sweetheart), and their two daughters, Taylor and Dylan, moved there to be with him as he underwent a dozen surgeries.

Despite all of their intervention, doctors realized that they would need to remove the Marine’s foot, a decision that Sgt. Linville and his family accepted with grace and a sense of humor. One day, Taylor and her mother were at Party City, waiting for the store to open. When a woman asked Taylor, “What are you celebrating?” Taylor, then 4, explained that her father was having his foot amputated and they were having a “going away-foot” party.

Sgt. Linville has since mastered walking with a prosthetic foot, and he plans to climb Mt. Everest as part of the Heroes Project in the spring 2015. Here, he poses with his younger daughter, Dylan.

Next: Cpl. Gabe Martinez and Captain Leslie Smith »

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