On the Radar
Memorial Day is a time when the country pauses to remember those in the military who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the country. It’s also a reminder of the soldiers who have come back from war alive but wounded in irreversible ways.
Lt. Jason Pak and Lt. Eric Zastoupil, both graduates of the West Point Military Academy, are among over 1,500 soldiers who have lost limbs fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this special Memorial Day edition of On the Radar follows their journeys of recovery.
Pak was on patrol in southern Afghanistan when the unexpected happened.
"I stepped on a mound and I just blew up,” Pak told On the Radar, “and then the next thing you know, my guys were rendering first aid."
The former West Point soccer player lost both of his legs and two fingers that day. Zastoupil similarly fell victim to an IED explosion Afghanistan, losing his left leg. While both soldiers faced challenging recoveries following their injuries, neither lost their fighting spirits.
Lying in a hospital bed at Walter Reed Medical Center outside Washington, DC, Pak set his sights on a goal: to stand at his father’s retirement ceremony from the Army just 82 days later.
While training, he told On the Radar: “[I am] working up to my dad’s retirement, just every morning working on trying to stand.”
And stand he did. After less than two months of relentless training with a new pair of prosthetic legs, Pak reached his ambitious goal and stood to honor his father at his retirement.
Zastoupil, a former basketball player for the West Point, played sports his whole life and was determined not to let the injury get in the way of his game.
After returning from Afghanistan, Zastoupil was invited to join a wheelchair basketball league, but his mother explained that he had other plans.
"He said 'no, until I can be up and back to my game, I don't want to play," his mother, Harriett Kelley, said.
He’s now up on his legs shooting hoops again and is in the process of training for the game of a lifetime: an invitation to play at the White House with the "baller-in chief," President Obama.
“I think it would be great to be able to go the White House, maybe play with the boss. To get to that point, it is gonna be even more hard work, it is gonna be surgeries, more rehab, getting in a leg, learning how to cut, how to stop and go a little bit to the point where I can actually play,” he said.
To hear more about these remarkable wounded warriors and their determination to recover, check out this special Memorial Day edition of On the Radar.
ABC's Luis Martinez, Eric Wray and Alexandra Dukakis contributed to this episode.