A home for Josh: Veteran details bomb blast, plans for new house
LIBERTY — In November 2007, four days before Army Spc. Josh Wells of Smithdale turned 21, an explosion burst through the armored side of his military vehicle in Iraq and ripped his legs off. On Monday, Wells stood before the Liberty Area Chamber of Commerce on metal prosthetic legs, describing the horrors he endured and looking forward to the new house that volunteers will build for him April 30 through May 2.
The Massachusetts-based organization Homes for Our Troops, using volunteers and donations, will build Wells a home off Highway 98 West, Summit.
Addressing a lunchtime crowd of more than 60 people at the Cotton Gin Restaurant, Wells recalled enlisting in the National Guard at a Southwest Mississippi Community College job fair.
He later joined the Army and asked to be posted overseas. The Amite County native who had never seen snow found himself in snowy 6-degree weather in Germany, then in 130-140-degree heat in Iraq.
On Nov. 2, 2007, soldiers went to town to pick up mail and refuel. Wells was driving a 21-ton, eight-wheel Stryker vehicle after telling his buddy Jonathan Bailey, who had been driving eight hours, to take a rest. Bailey was present at the chamber lunch. On the way back, the vehicle missed its turn and wound up on a street known as "one of the worst streets for IED (improvised explosive devices) placers," Wells said.
Wells, who said he didn't want to drive, was arguing with his platoon sergeant when, "Boom — your life changes," he said. "We got hit by four EFPs."
An EFP, or explosively formed penetrator, is an IED with a concave copper plate on top. The explosion liquifies the copper, which Wells compared to a "liquid shotgun slug" capable of penetrating 8 inches of steel.
"It went through our Kevlar side armor like it was butter," Wells said. "It didn't have a chance." The blast cut through his knees. "Everything turned bright orange and super hot. At the time I didn't realize I was on fire."
He veered into a ditch and dropped the back hatch so soldiers could get out. Then medics got to work in what Wells referred to as one of the "fastest turnarounds" in the Iraqi war.
"From the time the explosion went off until the time I went on the operating table was eight minutes," he said.
When he came to, 41 fellow soldiers were crowded around his bed. A sergeant handed Wells a phone to call his family.
"I said, ‘I don't need to. My family's already here,' " Wells said.He was transferred to Germany and then the United States, arriving in Texas to a welcome from family and friends on his 21st birthday.
Wells spent a year and a half in physical therapy, but the former Amite School Center athlete found "learning to walk again extremely difficult."
"I finally hit that wall of something I could not do," he admitted.
He was content to stay in a wheelchair, but his family and friends were not, and they spurred him on until he went to a specialty store in Oklahoma City to be fitted with prosthetic legs.
"I came back walking. My wheelchair to this day is still in Oklahoma somewhere," Wells said to applause. "I have not sat in a wheelchair since July 27 of last year."He ended his speech with a quote he said he read somewhere: "When you feel like you can't go on anymore, you're only halfway there."
Wells is looking forward to having a n ew home built by Homes for Our Troops. Here's a rundown of the building process and what's needed:
- Opening ceremony for house construction is 8:30 a.m. at 1015 Walker Road
- Volunteers will work 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Friday, April 30, through Sunday, May 2; all volunteers are welcome, skilled or not
- Take Highway 98 west of Summit past Pine Grove M.B. Church, turn left on Robert Jones Road, go about two miles, cross a bridge and turn left at a gravel road called Walker Lane
- Donations may be made at any Regions Bank in Mississippi to the account entitled "Homes for Our Troops - Summit, MS"