- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

In all likelihood, Army Staff Sgt. Eugene Simpson won’t ever walk again. In April, the 28-year-old tank commander and Dale City native suffered multiple injuries when a bomb exploded five feet from where he stood in Tikrit, Iraq, on patrol in a residential neighborhood. He had been out to fetch his men dinner. He nearly ended up dead. Shrapnel tore into his legs and back, severing his spinal cord above the waist. But for a comrade who pulled him back into his Humvee, Sgt. Simpson recounts, he might not have made it at all.

The road to recovery has been challenging, he says, but the small mercies have him sounding strong and in good spirits. On a typical day, he rises early for a stretching regimen and sometimes hits the free weights in his basement. Occasionally, he makes it to the gym. He loves Fox’s “Divorce Court.” Meanwhile, he eagerly awaits his wife, Shirley, and four boys, ages 2, 3, 5 and 8, who are due in a few weeks from Germany, where he was posted before Iraq. This morning, he will be honored by Paralyzed Veterans of America, the congressionally chartered group for servicemen like Sgt. Simpson, at a ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery.

Many helping hands have been easing Sgt. Simpson’s path since April. Over the summer and fall, local veterans and community volunteers refitted his parents’ Dale City home, where he currently resides, to meet the needs of a paraplegic. American Legion Post 364 in Woodbridge built a fence so his children can play in the backyard safely when they arrive. The U.S. Military Vets Motorcycle Club in Woodbridge has given much of the labor. And Prince William County installed a lift on the stairs. Sgt. Simpson sounds effusive describing all this help from strangers. Asked about his plans for the future, he says he hopes to attend college to become a high-school or middle-school counselor, own a home and watch his four young boys grow up.

Words can hardly describe the great sacrifice Eugene Simpson and others like him made for the cause of freedom, but on Veterans Day, we at least owe it to them to try. In 1954, Armistice Day was rechristened Veterans Day to honor not just the doughboys who ended World War I, but all servicemen living and dead. As President Bush put it earlier this week, “Americans live in freedom because of our veterans’ courage, dedication to duty and love of country.” Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi asks today in a speech, “Have you thanked a veteran today?” Each in their way, members of Sgt. Simpson’s community have. It’s up to the rest of us to do the same.

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