The image of a bandaged solider giving a salute from his hospital bed went viral. Learn where he is now. NBC News' Harry Smith reports.
By Amber Payne, Producer, NBC News
Army Ranger Joshua Hargis lay braced, tangled and constrained by tubing in his hospital bed. Yet bound by duty, he managed to raise his hand in full salute as his commander awarded him the Purple Heart.
"At that point, I knew what I was supposed to do," Hargis said as recounted the moment to NBC News. "So I hold my arm up. It felt stuck a little bit, so I started tuggin' on it and I pulled it all the way up and, you know, presented my salute as best as I could."
The moment made grown men at his hospital bedside weep and it instantly became viral after Hargis’ wife, Taylor, shared the photo on her Facebook page.
She said she posted the image as a reminder to people that the nation remains at war.
"We're still sending men and women over there and some of them are coming home, some of them aren't. Some of them are coming home with life-altering injuries," she said.
The poignant image happened at a time when most of the hospital staff in Hargis’ room thought he was unconscious.
But, Hargis could hear. He did hear the voice of commanding officer and he knew what was happening.
A Fateful Day
Hargis lost both of his legs from the knee down in a raid against an insurgent compound on Oct. 6, 2013 in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. A ranger strike force and a canine unit attempted to capture a high value target in Panjwai, Afghanistan.
The group secured the outer compound, when one man appeared. Reports from the battlefield suggest he dropped to his knees and lifted his shirt to show the U.S. forces that he was not wearing a suicide bomb vest.
As several members of the ranger strike force moved toward the man to begin questioning him, a person wearing a suicide vest emerged from the house and detonated an explosive. It instantly killed several members of the unit, along with the dog. The bomb also severely wounded Hargis and several others.
Taylor remembers the moment she learned of her husband’s fate.
"There's a moment where I fell apart to tears, I could barely breathe, but it was also a moment that I said you'll be fine, you can do this."
The Road to Recovery
Today, Hargis is receiving specialized care at The Center for Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He and Taylor live in an apartment paid for by a foundation so they can be together and still make the payments on their home in Columbus, Ga.
Hargis’ strength, balance and endurance are improving every day. His physical therapist, Marie Black, currently is working on his gait, walking using his prosthesis.
The Hargises are expecting a baby boy in May, and Hargis is sharply focused on being able to walk again.
As he continues his recovery with things such as working with a therapist to regain the use of his hands, the image of his bandaged salute continues to inspire.
"I have a brown paper bag at home, it's filled to the top, full of letters," Hargis said. "I got a letter from someone in Australia, hoping that we were doing okay."
But he admits the process is often frustrating when he can't do the sorts of things he used to.
"I'm trying to be strong for my wife, trying not to break down and let her know how hard of a time I'm having," he said. "I'm just getting it back into a normal, normal routine and being able to use it in daily activities again, like Connect Four," he joked.
Sense of humor, family, and faith helped get him through the last three months.
"It's unfair what happened, but that's the job he signed up for," said Taylor said. "You know that's a possibility, but the fact that we have each other, we have our family and friends and a baby on the way, we're extremely fortunate."
Taylor Hargis' brother Sgt. Patrick Griffith is heading up a warriors walk to raise money for Josh and Taylor Hargis, his sister and brother in law for what will be a lifetime of added costs.
A Walk to Remember
Taylor's older brother Patrick Griffith is planning a Warriors Walk to raise money for the couple and to make a broader point about the social consciousness of the war.
"I feel that the country's support of the military in recent years has been waning and i just wanted Josh and Taylor to know that would never happen in our family," Griffith said. "Josh married my sister and by doing that he married into this family. And at the end of the day, his family and our family, we're gonna take care of them through everything."
The 222-mile walk will start on February 17th with a handful of Josh and Taylor Hargis’ family and friends making the journey from both Fort Stewart and Fort Benning.
Walking anywhere from 12 to 21 miles a day, they will pitch tents at churches and the yards of friendly neighbors along the way.
The 15-day trek will culminate with Hargis joining the group for the last four miles riding a hand cycle from Columbus to the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning.
"My intent to be honest with you, is I wanna shut down the roads with the amount of people that we have so that people can see there's still support for the military," said Griffith. "That there's still guys and girls going overseas and getting wounded or killed, or not getting wounded or killed, and just being gone away from their families. And you have to support people through all these kinds of stuff."