BETHESDA, Md. — "I remember everything," U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. John G. Curtin said from his bed at the National Naval Medical Center.
The 20-year-old Wingdale native was in Afghanistan less than two months when an improvised explosive device exploded in front of him, forever changing him.
Curtin was on patrol with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, Echo Company, 3rd Platoon, when his unit went to investigate the inside of a mud brick building from which insurgents had been shooting only days earlier. They were in the hilly, dry Sangin Valley in the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.
"We were looking for leftover rounds, a weapons cache, homemade explosives," Curtin said. "It was part of what we call a 'battle damage assessment.' "
In hindsight, he said, the insurgents still had the unit in their sights.
"They know we do damage assessments," Curtin said. "Sometimes , they try to draw us into a certain area so we hit the IEDs."
The Marines avoided using doorways, which, he said, would have made them easy targets for snipers.
"Another unit blew a hole through a wall of the building," he said. "That's how we came in."
"I was doing security at the entry point," Curtin said. "I turned to my left. The tip of my foot stepped on the pressure plate."
His body slammed into the ceiling from the force of the explosion from the IED in the rubble.
"I was knocked out when I hit the ground," he said.
He came to about a minute later.
"I didn't want to open my eyes," he said. "I knew what happened."
When he did, he saw his squad leader wrapping a tourniquet around his leg. The same was done to his other leg. Both had been blown off at the knee.
Curtin suffered other injuries from the Feb. 15 attack: His left hand was shattered; his right eardrum was blown out; a chunk of flesh left a gaping hole in his right forearm.
But, Curtin said, he felt no pain.
"I didn't feel a thing," he said. "It must have been adrenaline."
He was moved into an open area nearby. "They started shooting at us," Curtin said. "We fired back."
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Curtin said it was around this time that he began to feel cold and tired. His fellow Marines took turns keeping him conscious. About 15 minutes passed before a helicopter came and scooped him up.
"It felt like an hour," he said.
He was taken to a military hospital in Afghanistan — Curtin said he did not remember where, exactly. Then, he was flown to another military hospital in Germany. Three days later, he arrived at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Feb. 20.
Three days after his arrival, Curtin, who joined the Marines in 2009, received a visitor.
President Barack Obama walked into Curtin's hospital room to award him the Purple Heart.
"He thanked me for serving my country," Curtin said. "He said it was people like me that keep the country free."
Having just come from the intensive care unit, Curtin wasn't wearing a shirt at the time.
"So, he pinned the medal to my sheet," Cutin said.
Two and a half hours later, Curtin underwent surgery to close and clean his wounds.
According to the website icasualties.org, which tracks war casualties worldwide, approximately 9,971 American service members have been wounded in Afghanistan since October 2001.
Moreover, the site reports that in Afghanistan, 1,875 deaths have occurred due to IEDs. The year 2010 is listed as the most deadly year of all, with 368 deaths caused by IEDs.
According to USA Today, the Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization reported that IEDs wounded or killed 7,800 troops within the U.S.-led coalition in 2010. The number represents almost half of all casualties that year.
Calls to the Marine Corps base in Camp Lejeune, N.C., requesting comment on Curtin's receipt of the Purple Heart were not returned.
Curtin is slowly on the mend.
"At first, I had night terrors," Curtin said. "I actually woke up one night and saw an explosion with my eyes wide open. There was dust. The whole room was shaking."
His family rushed to his side. His mother, father and brother, Ben, were housed nearby at the Navy Lodge, which houses families of wounded military personnel.
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Curtin said the wound on his right leg has almost completely healed and the sutures on his right arm have been removed. It will be two weeks before the metal pins in his left hand are taken out, he said.
"He's shown great fortitude," said his brother, Ben. "He's dealing with it like a man."
Back at home, family members said they were still in shock. Katie Galloway, Curtin's aunt and a resident of Hopewell Junction, said the family's pain was "indescribable.
"He has such a strong spirit," she said. "We're going to protect and support him, the way he protected our country."
On Thursday, Curtin received physical therapy for the first time. The workout included leg lifts and abdominal and shoulder exercises.
"I kept asking the therapist to do more sets," he said. "It felt good to exercise again."
Curtin, who has been moved to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, said he is looking forward to receiving prosthetic limbs in a few months.
"I can't wait," he said.
Curtin's family has arranged several fundraisers to help pay for family travel expenses and medical expenses not covered by the military. A spaghetti dinner will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Wingdale American Legion post on State Road in Wingdale.
To make a donation or get information about other events to benefit Curtin, visit www.marinejohngcurtin.com.