‘They’re not names to me, they’re friends’ | Purple Heart Day honors wounded veterans and those who paid ultimate sacrifice

Three local veterans, all wounded on the frontlines, share their stories of resilience.

KENS5 | by | August 2022 | Link to Article and Video

SAN ANTONIO — Watching the carnage unfold on Sept. 11, 2001, motivated Purple Heart veteran Justin “J.P.” Lane and thousands of other Americans to join the U.S. Armed Forces.

“I was actually in 8th grade language arts class and my teacher brought in a TV and turned on the news and we watched the towers fall,” Lane said.

Lane enlisted in the Army at 20 and trained to become a combat engineer.

He survived three separate IED (improvised explosive device) explosions in Afghanistan. The third event in 2011 forever changed his life, resulting in extensive physical and emotional damage.

“I became a double amputee in that moment along with my left femur snapping in half,” Lane said, who went through more than 20 surgeries, ended up in a coma and later struggled with mental health.

A year earlier in 2010, Marine Cpl. Sebastian Gallegos lost his arm in an explosion while on the frontlines in Helmand Province in south Afghanistan. Gallegos joined the Marines because he wanted to defeat the Taliban who were protecting terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

“People that are combat wounded tend to fight for each other,” Gallegos said.

Outside the Bexar County Court House rests a Purple Heart memorial with the names of veterans who were wounded on the battlefield and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Gallegos joined his friend and mentor Tony Roman, a Vietnam Marine veteran, outside the monument to recognize the brothers and sisters who served in the military. Roman, a Purple Heart recipient himself, described how the memorial lists only the name, branch of the military and which war they served in.

“The reason that there’s no rank is because when you’re in combat, the bullet, the piece of shrapnel, they don’t care what rank you are, you get it, you get it,” Roman said.

The Purple of Heart award dates back to the late 1700s, starting out as the Badge of Military Merit under George Washington.

The Purple Heart is the oldest military award given to U.S. military personnel.

“Anyone that has earned a Purple Heart, has the utmost patriotism in the United States to defend the country to the point of putting your life on the line,” Roman said, who serves as Texas Chief of Staff for the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Lane’s love for singing and sharing his story of overcoming the odds has landed him at the inaugurations of presidents Obama and Trump. He’s traveled the globe as a motivational speaker to give hope to the hopeless.

One of several non-profits serving wounded warriors every day is the Semper-Fi and America’s Fund, which provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to injured and sick veterans.

The Fund has helped Lane through the years, proving beneficial during his years of recovery as he learned to walk again with prosthetic legs and battled severe mental health challenges.

“They are there to answer the call when no one else wants to answer the call for our needs and things that we might have because everything has changed,” Lane said.

Gallegos tried to find comfort from the memories made during his time in Afghanistan. But it will never be easy.

“It makes me sad but they’re not names to me, they’re friends. That’s what different about August 7 for the combat wounded because it means that some of us lived and some of us didn’t,” Gallegos said.