WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wounded veteran Cory Remsburg had met President Barack Obama three times before Tuesday night— once in France and twice since a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on his 10th deployment. Number four was at Obama's State of the Union address, when the Army Ranger inspired the emotional high point of the evening.
Toward the end of Obama's policy-heavy address, the president gestured toward the uniformed man from Phoenix seated next to first lady Michelle Obama and described the difference between the Remsburg he'd met the first time— "sharp as a tack"— and the wounded warrior his fellow soldiers found face-down in a canal, underwater, with shrapnel in his brain.
"The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn't speak; he could barely move," Obama said to the now-silent crowd in the House chamber. "Over the years, he's endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day."
As Obama spoke, the heads of lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and Cabinet members swiveled to their right and upward toward Remsburg, who had been clapping all evening by patting his right hand on his chest. His left hand lay curled in a brace.
Remsburg, seated beside his father, Craig, is still blind in one eye and struggles on his left side, Obama said. But he's slowly learned to speak, stand and walk again. He's been awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
"Like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg never gives up and he does not quit," Obama said.
Everyone in the chamber stood and applauded Remsburg for a minute and 44 seconds, the most sustained applause of the evening.
Wearing a bow tie under his uniform, Remsburg stood, waved and gave a thumbs-up. Obama returned it.
As Obama made his way out of the House chamber, Remsburg was helped up the steps of the gallery by his father. What was left of the crowd turned toward him again and applauded.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Henry C. Jackson contributed to this report.
Wounded vet stars at Obama State of Union address
By BRIAN SKOLOFF and TERRY TANG
PHOENIX (AP) -- For a few moments at least, there were no politics in the State of the Union address. It was just Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, a severely wounded Army Ranger, up there in the balcony overlooking the House chamber.
His left hand was curled in a brace, a large scar visible on the right side of his head.
"Like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg never gives up and he does not quit," President Barack Obama said.
Remsburg, a 30-year-old recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart who had served 10 deployments and now has limited movement on his left side and is blind in one eye, then rose, his father, Craig, wrapping an arm around his son's back for support.
Remsburg flashed a thumbs-up as the throngs of lawmakers below gave him a nearly 2-minute standing ovation, a scene that became one of the most emotional moments in presidential speeches in decades. He patted his right hand on his chest, in thanks.
The president used the moment to help draw attention to the sacrifices and stories of wounded veterans who try each day to rebuild bodies and minds torn apart by war. It was also a glimpse into a relationship between a soldier and the commander in chief.
His story, however, was what drew the most attention.
Friends recalled Remsburg as affable and a fierce warrior who was always concerned about his fellow soldiers. Master Sgt. Quint Pospisil has known Remsburg since 2003. He described him as the kind of guy everyone liked, and often was the center of attention.
"Usually when he was in a room, he was the one talking," Pospisil said.
In 2006, they were part of the same Army Ranger company deployed to Iraq. Remsburg was a squad leader, Pospisil a platoon sergeant. Pospisil said as a leader, Remsburg had the respect of everyone who served under him.
"It's not like they respected him just because he was a buddy-buddy guy. He enforced standards," Pospisil said. "One of the big takeaways I have of him was that he was always concerned about the safety of his guys."
In October 2009, a roadside bomb in Afghanistan killed one soldier and severely wounded Remsburg and several others. Shrapnel from the blast went into Remsburg's head, leaving him with brain damage and partial paralysis.
Before Tuesday night, Obama met with Remsburg three times, the first in France when Remsburg was part of an Army Ranger group selected to re-enact a parachute jump in commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the World War II D-Day landings.
About a year later, Obama was visiting a military hospital in Maryland where Remsburg was sent after he was injured.
Obama later spoke of the chance hospital encounter at a gathering of the Disabled Veterans of America in Georgia, talking about the "good looking young man, a proud Army Ranger" who had been in a coma.
"It seemed possible that he would never wake up," Obama said, turning then to describing a remarkable recovery in the making - how Remsburg would open his eyes, then a few weeks later, move a leg, then an arm.
When they met at the hospital, Obama recalled, Remsburg couldn't speak, but looked the president in the eye, lifted his arm and shook his hand. And, when Obama asked how the soldier was feeling, Remsburg gave a thumbs-up.
It was that same salute Tuesday night, up in the balcony, that made lawmakers in the crowd send a thumbs-up back up to him. Wearing his dress uniform and a bowtie, he smiled softly at first lady Michelle Obama and to the crowd.
Remsburg's father said he and his son hope Obama's mention of Cory Remsburg's story will remind Americans that U.S. soldiers are still at war, being wounded and dying.
"If he sends that message by his presence alone, then he's done something," Craig Remsburg told The Arizona Republic in a telephone interview from Washington.
One of those who have fallen is Wendy Holland's son, Robert Sanchez, 24, who died in the same explosion that wounded Remsburg. She said that while watching Remsburg on television brought back memories of her own loss, she was happy about his recovery.
"I know Rob would be proud of Cory. I know that," she said.
Holland said Remsburg doesn't remember much about the explosion but often messages her through Facebook or email out of the blue to see how she is doing or just to chat about her son.
"He's a goodhearted person," she said. "He doesn't ever feel sorry for himself and I think that's what inspires me."
Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.
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