Burned, not broken

By: Emi FitzGerald Email
By: Emi FitzGerald Email

ADA, Okla. -- One Ada Marine has lived through horrific events with an inspiring story for us all. Cpl. Cody Hill says he joined the Marines because it seemed like the right thing to do. His life has dramatically changed in the few years since he's donned the uniform, but says he would go back and do it all over again for his friends and his country.

“Why does one man live and three doesn't you've got to ask why," he says.

It's a question no one should have to ask themselves, but something this Marine wonders often. Cody Hill is the sole survivor of an IED attack in Iraq. He was driving that day and was blown out of the vehicle. Two other Marines started an IV, put him on a medivac, and had him to safety within five minutes.

Navy medic Chris 'Doc' Walsh, Cpl. Jared Shoemaker, of Tulsa, and Lance Cpl. Eric Valdepenas were all gone in an instant.

"The phone call's better than a car driving up in your driveway," says Carlyle Hill, Cody’s father.

When Carlyle heard what happened, he quickly packed his bags and headed to San Antonio to see Cody in an induced coma, burned on more than half his body. Cody had undergone a procedure that had his muscles outside his body, exposing his calves, thighs, forearms, biceps and fingers. Doctors said it would help reduce swelling caused by severe burns.

When you talk to Cody, it becomes evident the friendships he's made in the service is what means the most. He has a flag folded in his living room with messages from fellow Marines, with phrases like, "hey warrior, stay hard, stay motivated."

It's no surprise he was so close to the guys in his Humvee.

"I just assumed they were all right,” he says. “I just didn't think they were in the hospital. I just assumed I was the only one in the hospital in there."

Carlyle and his wife took turns staying with Cody, hoping for recovery.

"Cody is my only son, my only child and he's been with me forever, so it was very important that I be there with him. I supported everything that he did. And just thought that I needed to be there when he wakes up and tell him everything is going to be ok."

Cody did wake up, but needed extensive treatment, including daily showers, and bandages on his many wounds. When the nurses told Carlyle family helps the injured heal faster, he knew what he had to do.
"I need to be there every time he's got his eyes open," Carlyle says.

This Ada native has always lived an active life. He played sports in high school, he went to college on a rodeo scholarship. Carlyle brought the horses down to San Antonio so Cody could rehab.

"We would go there about 9 o'clock at night when everyone would leave and he'd pull it for me and I'd wear out two horses."

Cody's battle wounds are visible from the outside. He lost an ear and has burns on his hands, arms, legs, and face. It frustrates him when that's the only thing others see.

"I tabbed out somewhere and I signed my name as the ‘One Eared Bandit’ the other night. And I get stares. People stare, but if I saw a man with one ear I'd probably take a second look. It's the people that keep staring and keep staring that I get angry with."

He's had about 15 surgeries in just 14 months. One more is scheduled for a prosthetic ear. He spends most of his time at Brooks Army Medical Center near San Antonio.

"He kind of is a cheerleader down there with him and tries to pick up his spirits everyday. And that's one of the things I’m most proud of, the way he does that," Carlyle says.

"I just don't want to quit. I could lay over and lay down, but it's just not me," Cody says.

Cody plans to work with his dad in their cattle business and settle down at his home outside Ada.
Cody was awarded a Purple Heart in March. But he’s quick to say the accolades and attention pale in comparison to the camaraderie he had with his fallen friends.

"I want to live my life for my friends and whatever I do or whatever I succeed or fail, I know they're watching me."

He still asks why, sometimes has trouble sleeping. With the support of his family, and fellow Marines, Cody Hill's strength comes by staying faithful.

Cody has done several interviews on his military experience from The Boston Globe, Readers Digest, and a rodeo magazine just to name a few.

In our conversations with him, he consistently mentioned other names, other men and women who have been injured or killed. He praises his doctors, nurses, and family. What’s most moving about him is that he knows it's not about him, but the efforts of all the armed forces together.

Be sure to watch the "director's cut" web-exclusive version of the story.

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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by zoey Location: texas on Feb 4, 2008 at 05:51 PM
    cody I know several females that think your good looking,are you married or do you have a girlfriend
  • by Linda Location: Ponca City, OK on Feb 4, 2008 at 10:34 AM
    Cody, You're a good friend to my son and an inspiration to us all. Thank you so much for your service to our great country. You continue to be in our daily prayers. God's blessings to you and your family.
  • by Kay Location: Ada, Oklahoma on Feb 4, 2008 at 10:34 AM
    Cody, You are inspirational! Please know that you are prayed for and thought of as you continue to recover both physically and emotionally. You ara truly a hero.
  • by TX Location: Texas on Feb 4, 2008 at 07:05 AM
    God Bless you Cody. Your an inspiration.
  • by Alice Mummey Location: Albuquerque, NM on Feb 3, 2008 at 10:32 AM
    Cody, I just want to say as a marine Vet Mother and an actove Marine grnadmother I am so proud of you boys and what you do for your country.I have been praying for you and am glad to hear you are making progress. May God be with you
  • by Cindy Location: Denton Texas on Feb 2, 2008 at 07:25 AM
    Cody, I'm going to pray for your physical and emotional recovery. I've been studying and reading alot about why God allows us to suffer. The conclusion I've drawn is that God allows things to happen in our lives that we would never choose. But God uses these things to form our character into the likeness of his Son. You are well on your way to your spiritual destination. Love to you!
  • by Vicki Location: Kingston on Feb 1, 2008 at 05:29 PM
    I have followed your recovery since your return and could not be more proud of you. As a former Cougar mom, I remember you had such strength and determination on the football field and that has carried over into your adult life. You were an Ada Cougar that never gave up and never afraid of anyone, even the guys that were much bigger than you. So, I know that you are not afraid of what lies ahead of you. I have read the stories about you and your buddies saving that little baby girl and that was so inspiring and brave of you all. Just know how proud your friends would be of you and what you are accomplishing. You have been through tremendous pain and suffering but have come through a stronger person as a result. Try to overlook the people that stare. God must have a VERY special purpose for your life since you were spared. I thank you and your buddies for your service to our country, our freedom, and our safety. May you have peace in your heart, mind, and soul. Forever grateful.
  • by coco Location: healdton on Feb 1, 2008 at 03:59 PM
    I Thank you!!! for and your fallen comrades for all you have done...May god be with and all your families...and God Bless America!! You R beautiful people...
  • by Leonard Location: North Texas on Feb 1, 2008 at 03:46 PM
    Cpl. Hill, there is so much I would like to say. Some of these readers will understand this, some will not. I have some knowledge on the subject of being injured in combat. My dad and my daughter both were buried with Full Military Honors, I was injured at Dak To, Viet Nam in 1969, I guess, like you, it wasn't my turn to "give all." Also, like you, I felt a need to "not lay down" I felt I owed my God, my Country, my Family & Friends more than that. I can assure you, you will have bad days. I encourage you to stay close to your family and friends. As time goes by you will (probably) feel the need to talk with someone who has "been there." Don't overlook your area service clubs, choose one or more and be active, it's a great place to be when no one else understands why you're having a bad day. I am very proud of the way the American people are welcoming this new era of Veterans back home. When I returned we were all "dope addicts" and "baby killers" we can thank the media for that.
  • by Dave Location: Oklahoma on Feb 1, 2008 at 03:04 PM
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