Josh Hargis fought to get into the Army despite a high school injury, but during his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan he was wounded by a bomb and a series of IEDs. As he lay in his hospital bed, seemingly unconscious, he was awarded a Purple Heart for his service – at which point he raised his hand in salute. His wife, who is pregnant, says she hopes the picture of her husband saluting serves as a reminder that soldiers are paying the ultimate sacrifice for their country. NBC's Harry Smith reports.
A wounded and presumed unconscious soldier whose valiant salute during a hospital Purple Heart ceremony made grown men weep and quickly became hugely popular online — and his wife says she understands why people are reacting with so much emotion to her hero husband.
“It moves me to tears,” Taylor Hargis said. “I mean I think that’s why it’s gotten so much attention. It’s moving people. It’s just an amazing thing he’s done and that he did it.”
Taylor said when she first saw the picture sent to her by Cpl. Josh Hargis' commander she was “overcome with pride. That’s my husband. He’s an amazing man.”
Courtesy Taylor Hargis
Josh Hargis, who was seriously wounded, salutes as he is awarded the Purple Heart.
Josh was at a military hospital in Afghanistan right after doctors had stabilized his wounds when he was being awarded the Purple Heart earlier this month.
During the ceremony the seemingly unconscious soldier raised his bandaged arm to salute — struggling with his doctors and medical tubes to do so.
The commander sent a picture and a letter about the incident to Taylor, writing that "grown men began to weep" at the sight of the salute.
He added that it “the single greatest event I have witnessed in my ten years in the Army.”
Taylor, who posted the letter and picture on Facebook, told NBC News on Wednesday that she wasn’t surprised by her husband’s actions.
“I think that people should know that my husband, number one, is a hero,” she said. “And that there are still other heroes in the fight. And there are still heroes that aren't coming home to their family members.” She added that Josh is “the kind of person that little boys should look up to.”
Taylor also recalled the day when she found out that her husband, an Army Ranger serving in Afghanistan, was wounded. She said she knew something was up because he didn’t call.
“Honestly, I was staring at my phone waiting for my phone to ring ... Josh always calls me. He always says good night, he always says I love you. We always speak before the end of the night for me.”
Courtesy Taylor Hargis
Josh and Taylor Hargis
She said she was up all night into the morning and a little frazzled when the phone finally did ring.
“I was lucky that it was a phone call. And that they said he's okay right now ... It was shocking. It was difficult to not be able to speak to him for a little while,” she said.
Four of his fellow soldiers -- Pfc. Cody Patterson, Sgt. Joseph Peters, 1st Lt. Jenifer Moreno and Sgt. Patrick Hawkins -- were killed in the same suicide bomb attack southwest of Kandahar that left Josh and a dozen others wounded.
The fallen soldiers became linked to the government shutdown crisis when their families expressed grief and outrage because the federal government was withholding a $100,000 "death gratuity" normally paid out to relatives to help them out financially until survivor benefits kick in.
Josh, it turns out, had a difficult time even getting into the Army: Because of a high school sports injury he was denied entry several times.
But when the Army finally let him in, he excelled, breezing through basic training and into Ranger school and into the Army’s elite infantry. He was on his fourth tour of Afghanistan when he was wounded.
Chelsea McDonald, Josh’s friend from their Cincinnati high school, described the former captain of the soccer team as strong-willed popular guy who all the girls liked.
“He’s just an all-around American guy,” McDonald said. “You know, loves his country, loves his family, loves his wife, respects his friends and would do anything for anybody.”
After being flown from Germany, Josh is now recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. And Taylor, who is expecting their first child this spring, is by his side.
“I'm very fortunate that he's here. I'm fortunate that he's still alive and that we still get to have our life together.”
NBC's Elizabeth Chuck contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Wed Oct 16, 2013 7:38 PM EDT