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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