“Henry V” Act IV, Scene III – King Henry, in disguise, rallies his troops before the Battle of Agincourt with these famous words: “For he today that sheds his blood with me shall forever be my brother.”
Corporal Anthony Villarreal cites that quote as his favorite. It’s a personal drama he’s lived during three tours of duty – two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. And those inspiring words continually gained meaning for Anthony when he returned from Afghanistan and endured more than 70 surgeries.
“My recovery and rehab was long and painful,” says Anthony. “Having skin grafts, where they take a piece of your good skin and place it on an area that was burned, is physically and emotionally stressful. But my family helped me through it all.”
The injury happened to Anthony on June 20, 2008 in Afghanistan’s Helmand province – three and half months into his third deployment. Anthony was leading a supply convoy when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated.
“There was a big flash and a loud bang. I crawled out of the vehicle as another Marine came to my rescue and dragged me off. That’s when a rocket in the back of the vehicle exploded.”
Three of Anthony’s “brothers” were with him in the vehicle. Two Marines were severely injured, and a Navy doctor was killed.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” says Anthony. “At some point I was placed into a drug-induced coma. I woke up three and a half months later at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas.”
Anthony says waking up from the coma was “a very emotional experience” because he didn’t believe he had survived the explosion.
“My wife and my family were there at my side. But I had had surgery to replace my eyelids, so it was hard for me to look. I was just trying to remember all the faces and recognize everyone’s voice.”
Anthony received third degree burns over 60 percent of his body. Surgeons also amputated his right hand and left fingers. And the muscle and nerve damage he sustained caused Anthony to be unable to lift the ankle and toes of his right foot – a condition doctors call “foot drop.”
“I spent two years at BAMC. When I got out, I struggled with the looks I’d get from everybody. You know, people staring. Sometimes children would see me – this person who’d been burned – and they would get scared. Getting over the fear of people’s reaction to me was a big thing for me going back into civilian life.”
Today, with courage comparable to King Henry, Anthony steps front and center in a very public way as a member of the National Campaign Team for Wounded Warrior Project®.
“I want to help wounded warriors in their recovery process. And I want to give insight to civilians that these warriors are out there. Ask us and we’ll tell you our story. We’re so much more than something to stare at.”
Helping his fellow warriors is a mission Anthony also carries with him in his private life. Each June 20 since the incident, he calls the guys – those who shed blood with him – to reflect on their “Alive Day.”
“And then I call the mother of the guy who was killed, and I talk with her. We talk about his life. And we really just leave it at that. He will forever be my brother.”