- Associated Press - Saturday, July 12, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Kevin McCloskey, 27, is getting married in May to a girl he first kissed under the Wildwood boardwalk in fifth grade. At least that’s what he says. She swears it was the summer after sixth grade, maybe seventh.

“Every time he tells the story,” says Bridget McGeehan, 27, “it gets earlier and earlier.”

Kevin and Bridget, who grew up blocks apart in Mayfair, own a house now in Elkins Park. They have two dogs, a mastiff, Murdock, who pees at the slightest excitement, and a tougher little terrier named Dean, as in Martin.

Kevin bartends two nights a week on Frankford Avenue. He pivots behind the bar with a dexterity you only get on the job.

Two or three days a week, Kevin golfs. On a good day, he scores in the low 90s, although he did wrap a 6-iron around a tree this spring on not such a good day.

Six years ago last month, Kevin was blown up in Afghanistan. When he saw out of his left eye that he had no legs - his right eye had shrapnel in it, and is now blind - he told his guys to let him die on the mountain: “I don’t want to go home like this. Just let it go.”

He has come home. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about his life is that it can be so ordinary - celebrating his birthday last week in North Wildwood, watching the World Cup at the Piazza in Northern Liberties, drinking beer after bar-league golf outings.

According to a 2013 Veterans Affairs report, an estimated 22 American veterans were committing suicide every day. Tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans struggle with addiction or post-traumatic stress disorder. The VA has been widely criticized for its handling of these and other problems.

“We hear about all those veterans who have issues,” said Pat Dugan, a municipal court judge who also runs Philadelphia’s veterans court. “They become the headlines. We’re not hearing about guys like Kevin. They go and serve and come home and become citizens. Kevin is the best example. He’s a bartender. He stands on his feet working.”

Dugan asked Kevin to speak at the Korean War Memorial at Penn’s Landing on Memorial Day.

“This city has brought me back,” Kevin said that day. “My family, my friends forced me to walk, to work. I wouldn’t have made it without them.”

After graduation from North Catholic High School in 2005, Kevin worked a year restocking fruit at Capriotti Brothers on Frankford Avenue before joining the Army. He wasn’t driven by patriotism, at least he didn’t realize it at the time. He wanted to prove to himself and his family that he could get his act together. He thought he’d get a great experience, come home, and get a union job like his father and brother.

After four months in country, on June 8, 2008, he was driving in a convoy of Humvees. Kevin doesn’t remember the moment before the explosion, but his passengers told him he spotted the improvised explosive device and tried to swerve.

The driver’s-side front wheel took the brunt of the blast. The others walked away, one with a broken leg. Kevin’s right wrist and pelvis were shattered. His legs were gone - the right above the knee, the left below it.

His lieutenant had told him he didn’t have to go on that mission. He had suffered a bad sunburn the day before. But his unit had taken fire two weeks earlier returning from the same village, and Kevin couldn’t let his guys go without him.

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