By Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller
Halfway through Lent, Jeremy Feldbusch went to the Stations of the Cross for the first time, and came away with a new understanding about his life and its purpose.
At the Fifth Station, when Simon of Cyrene carries the cross for Jesus, he said, “Everything just came together.”
The idea of carrying someone else’s burden and suffering with Christ, he said, enabled him to more clearly see his own struggles, even though he can’t see at all.
Feldbusch, 30, was to enter the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil at SS. Simon and Jude Parish, in Blairsville, Pa. — exactly seven years since April 3, 2003, when enemy artillery in Iraq exploded near his squad and sprayed metal fragment into his head. An inch-long piece entered his right eye and scattered bone splinters that damaged the frontal lobes of the brain.
Although the injury blinded him, affected his senses of smell and taste, left him with seizures and changed his life forever, Feldbusch has been steadfast on the journey to find his own healing, reach out to others and embrace the faith that will fulfill his longing “to share fully in the Eucharistic celebration.”
Lent has been particularly meaningful.
“The penance you do for what Christ has gone through allows me to feel closer to God,” Feldbusch told Our Sunday Visitor. “It’s really a strong magnet.”
Feldbusch and his parents, Brace and Charlene, are three of the founders of the Wounded Warrior Project, a national outreach for military personnel who have been wounded, physically and otherwise, in recent wars. The organization also lobbies for increased financial support for treatment and programs for veterans.
As the project’s national spokesman, Feldbusch speaks at seminars, schools and other settings, has appeared in extended print coverage, and was on NBC’s “The Today Show” and the Fox News Channel with Bill O’Reilly and Neil Cavuto.
Feldbusch’s struggle for recovery and his family’s support were the focus of “Home Front,” a Showtime cable network documentary that debuted on Veterans Day 2006, and is now available on DVD.
Seven years ago, it didn’t seem like any of this could be possible for Feldbusch.
“The Lord was with me,” he said, “even though I was knocking on heaven’s door more than once.”
Feldbusch, who made the rank of sergeant in special operations, enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Science in biology.
“I didn’t want to become an officer,” he said. “I wanted to do the dirty work.”
He was eating an Army-issued meal of chicken teriyaki when insurgents fired at his squad at Haditha Dam on the Euphrates River. He knows what happened next only because he was told.
“The physician’s assistant gave me the necessary drugs, the choppers were called in and I was evacuated out of the hot zone and taken to the field hospital,” he said. “I don’t remember any of that.”
Ten days later, Feldbusch was transported to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and kept in a drug-induced coma for six weeks. He died and was resuscitated five times when they tried to remove the ventilator, and the prognosis was grim even when he could breathe on his own. Then one day, he whispered, “I love you, Mom.”
Recovery was just beginning, and Feldbusch needed to heal his heart, too.
“Why did God do this to me?” he angrily demanded from the hospital bed. “Why did God take away my eyesight?”
His father countered, “Jeremy, maybe you should rethink this and ask why God let you live.”
It was a powerful turning point for the wounded soldier.
“I got a different perspective,” he told OSV. “I put down the sword and picked up the pen to help our servicemen.”
Then came the spiritual journey. Raised a Methodist, Feldbusch was lukewarm in his faith and even had “no religious preference” on his dog tags. But he felt at home the many times that he attended SS. Simon and Jude with Catholic relatives. The Catholic Church, he realized, was where he wanted to be.
Feldbusch asked his friend, Nick Dorsch, to be his sponsor, and chose St. Philip Neri, the patron of special forces, for his confirmation name. His girlfriend, Cardin Uncapher, a special-education teacher who teaches religious education at their parish, takes him to Mass and took him to the Stations of the Cross.
“I learned so much going through the Stations,” he said. “It was amazing, awe-inspiring and miraculous. When Jesus fell, Simon came to help him. I see my struggles, and I understand that this is what happened to me. You need God in your life to pick you up when you’re scraping bottom. You have to call out and he will give you assistance.”
Feldbusch’s nightmare was turned into a miracle.
He was not expected to survive, but he lived, and he was not expected to walk or talk, but he can hunt with a laser gun sight, and he has fished for salmon in Alaska. Most of all, Feldbusch’s sense of humor and determination touch thousands of others who are wounded in their own ways.
“Even though my eyes can’t see, my heart has been opened up so much more in things that I have learned since I have been blind,” he said.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania. To learn more about Wounded Warrior Project, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org.
At the Easter Vigil, thousands of men and women entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. Here’s a look at the number of people who were to join the Church in a variety of dioceses.
2,062 - Atlanta, Ga
787- St. Louis, Mo.
504- Louisville, Ky.
474- Salt Lake City, Utah
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