NORTH COVENTRY, Pa. • An IED blast in Afghanistan left Marine Cpl. Grant Cantrell III with a traumatic brain injury and a choice: Would he have his severely injured legs amputated, or endure intense physical therapy to save them?
Blisters from burns covered his feet and lower legs. They looked "disgusting," Cantrell remembers thinking at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
He waited out the pain while some of his wounds from the Sept. 28, 2011, explosion healed.
Cantrell's mother, Sandra Cantrell-Edwards, was at his side when President Barack Obama pinned a Purple Heart to his shirt at Walter Reed.
But he asked her to leave near the end of his seven-month stay, so he could surprise her with his progress.
Read about Grant Cantrell's continuing journey of recovery on American Homecomings.
More on American Homecomings
Saving the legacy of today's veterans
A young Marine lies on his belly, sobbing after he and his comrades shot up an Iraqi family whose white Chevy Citation sped into the middle of a firefight. Another Marine, bone-weary on a march into Baghdad, falls asleep while replacing his sock.
A third is whisked away from war with a torn-up face and survivor's guilt because his buddy, a husband and father of two, died in the same foxhole.
These are some of the poignant stories from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans collected by historians at the University of Utah's American West Center.
Read more about the Saving the Legacy project, which aims to interview veterans of the latest wars while their experiences are raw.
Utahn is a fierce advocate for her fellow veterans
American Homecomings is following eight veterans for a year, hoping to shed light on how Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as a whole are faring. See these stories and others at americanhomecomings.com.
Meet Jen Carver • An Army veteran of two Iraq tours, single mom, student at Weber State University majoring in social work and criminal justice, Jen Carver is a tireless, passionate advocate for helping other veterans get the most out of their college education.
Meet Tim Kenney • He doesn't miss a beat when asked if there was anything good he saw in Afghanistan. The stars made him feel close to his God and close to his family.
But that emotional connection was broken when Tim came home to Colorado at the end of April 2011. He was physically disabled by hits from roadside explosive devices and mentally in shock from what he had seen and done.
Meet Emily Yates • After two tours of duty in Iraq, she's working toward a degree in Near Eastern Studies at University of California Berkeley campus. To fully understand her seemingly unquenchable thirst for life, you have to go back to her six years in the military, when she was trapped between her inclination to speak her mind and the Army's insistence on circumspect obedience.
Meet Kevin Anton • An Iraq War veteran, Kevin Anton joined the Army to escape conflicts within his family. The irony is, he's reentering civilian life near Denver at the urging of his family, reinventing himself as a father and pursuing a career in nursing.
Meet Nick Wright • After three tours in Iraq with the Marines, he now is home in Chico, Calif., living with the aftermath of a traumatic head injury he suffered when an improvised explosive device tore apart his vehicle. Like Anton and Carver, he is staking his future on his family his wife and four children, his "beautiful babies."
About American Homecomings
AmericanHomecomings.com is devoted to one of the most important issues of our time the re-entry of members of the military to our cities and towns, our colleges and universities, our businesses, our homes.
The uncommon collaboration involves Digital First Media newsrooms across the country, including The Salt Lake Tribune.