Story by Linda Dahlstrom, photos by Joshua Trujillo / Starbucks Newsroom
It’s a sight she once thought she might never see again. It was simple really – her son, standing in the morning sun talking to friends. Annie Remsburg knew that doctors once predicted it would be impossible for her boy to ever talk or walk again. Yet there he was Monday (Sept. 11) morning, doing just that.
In fact, the doctors weren’t sure her son was going to live. Cory Remsburg, now 34, was an elite Army Ranger serving in Afghanistan in his 10th deployment, when he and his platoon hit an improvised explosive device (IED) on Oct. 1, 2009.
His parents got a call a few hours later. “They said he’d been found injured, submerged in water – and not breathing,” his dad, Craig Remsburg, remembers. They flew to his side at Landstuhl Regional Medical center where they learned that shrapnel had entered his brain.
Today, he is blind in one eye and is partially paralyzed. He’s able to take steps with support but also uses a wheelchair to get around. Despite all the odds, he’s here – and he’s not one to feel sorry for himself. “There’s always someone worse off,” Cory Remsburg said.
Remsburg (pictured above, center) was one of those in attendance at a kickoff event Monday (Sept. 11) at Starbucks for the Old Glory Relay. The relay, in its fourth year and presented this year by Microsoft, is organized by Team Red, White & Blue, a non-profit devoted to supporting U.S. veterans. Teams of runners will carry a single American flag 4,600 miles from Seattle to Tampa, Fla, arriving on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. Kevin Johnson, chief executive officer of Starbucks, and Robert Gates, former defense secretary and a Starbucks board member, were among those speaking at the event at Starbucks, which is one of the sponsors.
“It is in times of adversity, when we are most vulnerable, that we have the greatest opportunity to grow,” Johnson said from the front stairs of Starbucks headquarters. “People depend on each other to get through tough times – and they come out of it stronger and more resilient. The American flag is a symbol of strength through unity and the Old Glory Relay, moving one flag from coast to coast, shows us the power of what we can do when we come together.”
Cory Remsburg doesn’t remember the blast from the IED, or much of his hospital time, but his mother helps fill in the blanks. She remembers the months in a coma, not knowing if he’d wake or what he’d be like if he did. She remembers waiting months – eight, in fact – to see if he’d speak again. When he did, on June 1, 2010, a date she’ll always remember, the words came tumbling out. “I said, ‘What’s your dad’s name? He said ‘Craig’. What’s your name? He said ‘Cory’,” she remembers. She knew he was back. Her husband was in his car when she called to tell him. As soon as he heard his son’s voice, he had to pull over the car to weep.
And she remembers the day that President Barack Obama walked into Cory Remsburg’s hospital room in Bethesda, Md. It was February 2010 and the president was at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center getting his annual check-up when he decided to visit some of the wounded soldiers. As he came into her son’s room, Annie Remsburg saw him look at the photo on her son’s bedside stand, at her son, and then back at the photo.
“Hey, I remember you,” she recalls Obama saying. He had met Cory Remsburg only eight months before at Normandy, France, when the Army Ranger, who was a military parachutist, had participated in a re-enactment of D-Day. The photo next to his hospital bed showed the two of them together. Now, the man before him was barely recognizable.
Right there, “Obama coined him in his hospital bed,” Annie Remsburg, said, referring to a revered military tradition of honoring soldiers.
The two met again several times after that. And In 2014, he was honored by Obama at the State of the Union address. He received a standing ovation that lasted nearly two minutes.
“Day by day, he’s learned to speak again, stand again, walk again and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again,” Obama said during his speech. “ … Like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg never gives up and he does not quit.”
Annie Remsburg said that part of her son’s determination is rooted in the fact that he wants to call attention to other veterans who have sacrificed for their country. “He doesn’t want to see any veteran ever left behind,” she said.
His father, Craig, said that on the hard days, he reminds his son that “you are here for a reason.” Cory Remsburg spends much of his time helping others. He goes to schools to talk to kids about what it means to serve. He visits other wounded soldiers, hoping to inspire them. He also is the spokesman for Driven to Drive, a program created by TrueCar, focused on helping wounded veterans have access to modified vehicles.
‘The flag is about everybody’
When the Old Glory Relay passes through his hometown of Phoenix, Cory Remsburg will be riding a recumbent bike alongside it. These days, the flag means more to him now than ever, he said.
“The flag is about everybody together,” he said. “It stands for freedom.”
Annie Remsburg and her husband will be there to watch. She said they’ve always been very patriotic as a military family, but the sight of the flag has taken on a deeper meaning since her son’s injury.
“The flag to us has always been symbolic of our freedom, but since his injury it’s even more so since we know we are still at war and we’ve been touched by it personally,” she said. “It represents the men and women who are out there every day putting their lives on the line. The flag unites all of us no matter who you are, where you are or what you do.”