StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Staff Sgt. Jon Meadows' first deployment to Iraq, one of his friends, Staff Sgt. William Beardsley, said he wanted to go on a mission in Jon's place.
Jon agreed — and Beardsley died on that mission.
"That was the hardest moment of my life," Jon tells his wife, Melissa, on a visit to StoryCorps in Washington, D.C. "I was ashamed, because I was glad it wasn't me. Then I had the guilt ... If I went on the mission, it wouldn't have been him. I had a picture of him, and I had it everywhere I went. And now I put him on my bookshelf. There's my buddy who got killed. I can never get over that."
Jon was injured multiple times during his service. During his most recent deployment, in Afghanistan, the vehicle he was riding in drove right over an IED.
"My driver floored it," Jon tells Melissa. "And my body slammed so hard up against the top of the vehicle it felt like I had a knife stuck in, like, the middle of my brain."
When he came home, they learned he'd suffered a traumatic brain injury. "You couldn't have a conversation," Melissa tells Jon. "You couldn't follow one-step instructions. You were almost catatonic at times."
Jon asks if Melissa would ever want to give up on him. "No," Melissa tells him. "Absolutely not. Your mission is to get better."
"And that's what I'm trying to do," Jon says. "And it's so hard to say, 'I need help.' "
"I can't soldier it up anymore," he says. "I have to be somebody that wants to be healed. And now we're working with my PTSD, which is a different thing. The only way to treat that is I have to talk about it, too."
Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Katie Simon.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
On this Memorial Day weekend, it's time to check in with StoryCorps and their Military Voices Initiative. Project is collecting interviews from those who've served in the post-9/11 conflicts. Last month, StoryCorps spent a day at the White House, recording stories with Joining Forces, the national effort to support services members and their families. That's spearheaded by Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.
(SOUNDBITE OF STORYCORPS RECORDING)
FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA: ...Because you're not living in a military community.
CAROLE REESE: Exactly. And it is different than being on a base because there may be neighbors that don't even know that you have a loved one who is deployed, and that you're managing the house, children and everything else.
SIMON: That's Carole Reese, the wife of a combat medic, speaking with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden. Staff Sgt. Jon Meadows also recorded an interview that day. He was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, and was injured multiple times and suffers from a traumatic brain injury. He sat down for StoryCorps with his wife, Melissa.
(SOUNDBITE OF STORYCORPS RECORDING)
JON MEADOWS: Nine-eleven happened, and it was just like something inside of me said, you know, I've got to do my part. This is awful.
MELISSA MEADOWS: We got the notice you were going to Iraq. Do you remember that?
J. MEADOWS: Yeah. I was very excited. But...
M. MEADOWS: It wasn't such a wonderful adventure, was it?
J. MEADOWS: No, it wasn't.
M. MEADOWS: You got hurt when you were in Afghanistan this last time. What happened on that incident?
J. MEADOWS: We were supporting a special forces unit. We drove right over the IED, and my driver floored it. And my body slammed so hard up against the top of the vehicle, it felt like I had a knife stuck in, like, the middle of my brain.
M. MEADOWS: And I could tell on the phone something was different with you, and then you came home. We slowly discovered that you had a significant brain injury.
Doctor Weber had described you as an advanced Alzheimer's patient. You couldn't have a conversation. You couldn't follow one-step instructions. You were almost catatonic at times.
J. MEADOWS: That's got to bother you, don't it?
M. MEADOWS: Sometimes it does. It does.
J. MEADOWS: Do you think you would ever want to give up?
M. MEADOWS: No. Absolutely not. Your mission is to get better.
J. MEADOWS: And that's what I'm trying to do. And it's so hard to say I need help. I can't soldier it up anymore. I have to be somebody that wants to be healed. And now we're working with my PTSD, which is a different thing. The only way to treat that is I have to talk about it, too.
M. MEADOWS: Absolutely.
J. MEADOWS: I remember we were going on a mission, and my good friend, Staff Sgt. William Beardsley, he took my place. He decided that he wanted to go on the mission. So I'm like, OK, yeah, go ahead. And he went, and got killed. That was the hardest moment in my life. And I was ashamed because I was glad it wasn't me. Then I had the guilt. Like, if I went on the mission, it wouldn't have been him. I had a picture of him, and I had it everywhere I went. And now I put him on the - on my bookshelf. He was my buddy, who got killed. I could never get over that.
SIMON: Staff Sgt. Jon Meadows with his wife Melissa, at StoryCorps, in Washington, D.C. These interviews were recorded as part of StoryCorps Military Voices Initiative and in conjunction with Joining Forces. You can hear more military stories on the StoryCorps podcast. Sign up at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.