'My Son is Alive': A mother's perspective
Hanson, MA -- This is a mother’s story.
It is not anti-war or pro-war. It is not about politics.
It’s about a woman who gave birth to a beautiful baby boy 26 years ago.
She swelled with pride as she watched him grow into a brave and patriotic young man. He had wanted to be a soldier since he was a child playing with his friends and had to fight to join the U.S. Army after high school because of an incorrect asthma diagnosis, but he didn’t give up.
This is the story of a woman sitting at work on June 8, 2006, laughing with co-workers when her cell phone rang.
It was an Army captain. Her heart stopped.
He told her everything was okay. She told him everything was not okay or he wouldn’t be calling her.
At the same time, it occurred to her that her firstborn had not been killed because that news is always delivered in person.
"My son is alive," she thought to herself.
It was a defining moment.
The captain told her that both of her son’s legs had been amputated following a roadside explosion in Iraq.
She sank to the floor sobbing. She remembered rubbing his feet when he was tired and tickling them to make him laugh when he was a little boy. She kept asking the captain to repeat himself. Nothing was making sense.
She still grieves. At times she has become physically ill at the thought of how much her son has suffered. But other times she is overcome with joy that he survived and amazed at his courage and resiliency.
Soldiers call the day they were wounded their "alive day."
This is the story of a mother who struggles with the anguish of a wounded son but who willed herself to focus on the great gift she received two years ago, not the terrible blow.
This is the story of a mother’s love.
He would do it again
Army Sgt. Brian Fountaine, whose father, Paul is a U.S. Marine and Boston firefighter, joined the Army in early 2001 shortly after graduating from high school in 2000. He was home on leave from basic training on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I just hugged him and started crying. I knew he was going some place bad," said his mother Roberta Quimby of Main Street in Hanson.
But Brian wasn’t afraid, she said.
"He didn’t want to kill people or get killed, but he wanted to do what he was trained to do. He’s a very patriotic young man. He would do it again in a heartbeat," Quimby said.
Quimby said Brian tried to make the most of his time in Iraq.
Every chance he got, he tried to share ordinary human moments with civilians. He played soccer with kids and asked everyone back home to send food and clothes he could distribute to the needy.
When Brian was finally able to tell her what happened on that horrible day, she was touched by his grace during such a trauma.
There were three men in the Humvee and Brian was in command. Brian had the presence of mind to use his own belt as a tourniquet. The driver was also badly injured and lost a leg, but the young gunner was blown clear, uninjured. The gunner panicked, but Brian knew he and the driver needed his help to survive. Brian went into sergeant mode and talked him through it.
"Brian should have died. He basically saved his own life," Quimby said.
My son is alive
Quimby, an administrative assistant, chronicled her experience helping nurse Brian back to health at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. in a book she aptly called "My Son is Alive."
For the book, Quimby gathered up the email updates she sent friends and family during the first few months and added reflections on those daily experiences.
The emails are generally as upbeat as she can make them and focus on Brian, but in the reflections, with the distance of time, she confides in the readers how scary and numbing so much of the experience was.
Quimby had never written a book before. It is not always polished, but that may be its biggest asset. Her raw emotions shine through. It is a deeply personal and engrossing account of the toll the war took on one young man from Hanson and his loving family.
A new day
When Brian is wearing pants, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong he walks so well, Quimby said.
But he usually prefers shorts. Brian is proud of his prosthetic legs. They were hard earned. He suffered through a year of dangerous infections, multiple surgeries and excruciating pain, both phantom and otherwise, to get to this point.
In the meantime, he’s gone skiing and white water rafting, Quimby said. Brian was never one to sit still. He likes to work and he likes to play, and he didn’t let his injury change that.
He’s also getting settled in to his custom built completely accessible house in Plymouth, a gift from Homes for Our Troops of Taunton, a non-profit organization that builds accessible housing for wounded veterans.
Quimby said the house has made a huge difference in Brian’s life.
And he’s not living there alone.
Four months after Brian was injured, an Internet pen pal from Kansas visited him in the hospital.
"It was love at first sight," Quimby said.
Quimby said she liked Mary, her future daughter-in law, immediately. Quimby saw in her a quiet strength. Mary took over Brian’s care, and they quickly became inseparable.
They were married on June 8, 2008.
"He wanted to make a happy memory for that day," Quimby said.
Quimby and her husband Chet have always been patriotic, she said. They’ve always attended Veterans Day parades and flown the flag at half-staff on Nov. 11.
But the holiday has an added meaning for her now.
"I get more choked up. I can cry at the sight of a beautiful flag flying in the breeze," she said.
They are tears of love and pride and joy and sorrow, she said.
"I think of the sacrifice he made for his county, him and all the others who sacrificed," Quimby said.