ROGERS -- Aaron Mankin had been in Iraq as a Marine war correspondent for only three months when a bomb detonated under the 26-ton amphibious assault vehicle he was riding in.
The blast killed six Marines and injured a dozen others on May 11, 2005. Mankin suffered severe damage to his throat and lungs from smoke inhalation, and burns on more than 25 percent of his body. His face was disfigured.
Cpl. Aaron Mankin, a alumnus of Rogers High School, speaks Friday to students at Heritage High School during the school’s Veterans Day celebration in Rogers.
Cpl. Aaron Mankin (right), a alumnus of Rogers High School, greets Daphanie Weber, junior at Heritage High School, on Friday after the school’s Veterans Day celebration in Rogers.
Advancements in medicine and body armor have led to an unprecedented percentage of U.S. military service members surviving severe wounds or injuries. For every U.S. soldier killed in World Wars I and II, there were 1.7 soldiers wounded. In Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, for every U.S. soldier killed, seven are wounded. Combined, more than 50,000 servicemen and women have been physically injured in the recent military conflicts.
Source: Wounded Warrior Project
He remembers stumbling out of the wreckage not realizing how badly he was hurt. He remembers everything, he told students Friday during a Veterans Day assembly at Heritage High School in Rogers.
Mankin, a 2000 graduate of Rogers High School, was wearing his Marine uniform for Friday's event. He told the students that they will encounter traumatic events in their lives.
"Bombs go off," he said. "But you have the power to choose how you respond. I made a choice not to let someone who decided to take a shovel and bury a bomb in the middle of the road dictate who I am."
Mankin was the first patient in the Operation Mend program -- a partnership of the UCLA Medical Center, the U.S. military and the Department of Veterans Affairs -- to help heal the wounds of war. The program provides advanced surgical and medical treatment free to post-9/11-era service members, veterans and their families.
He has had more than 60 surgeries to reconstruct his face. He called his surgeon a "hero," adding with some amusement that he got a nose job from the same doctor who worked on Michael Jackson's nose.
Mankin, 34, lives in Rogers. He has two children, both of whom attend Westside Elementary School.
Jay Jackson, a World War II veteran, was among the special guests at Friday's assembly. He spent two years in Europe flying missions as a nose gunner on a B-24 bomber.
"It was a great experience. I just don't care to do it again," said Jackson, 90, who lives in Rogers with his wife of 63 years, Patsy.
Though he had trouble hearing much of Mankin's speech, he thought it must have been pretty good because "the kids were paying close attention," he said.
Kyle Bowman, a junior at Heritage High, and Jhomara Hernandez, a senior, hosted the assembly. They called out the names of seven staff members who are veterans and 10 students who plan to enlist in the military.
Some students crowded around Mankin after the assembly to meet him and get their pictures taken with him. Among them was Domenique Valdez, 15, a freshman. She was struck by the courage Mankin showed in serving his country.
"It made me feel blessed, and we should all thank those who have done this for us," she said.
Chance O'Connor, an 18-year-old senior, said Mankin is his neighbor. O'Connor expressed deep admiration for him.
"He's lost so much, but gained so much more," O'Connor said. "He doesn't let the trouble of life bog him down. This guy has every right to be mad at the world, but he has such a great attitude."
Asked about recent instances of professional and college athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest what they perceive as racial injustice in America, Mankin said he respects their right to do that but hopes they don't stop there.
"It's one thing to take a knee. It's another thing to try to do something that actually effects change. There are other ways to bring attention to your cause," he said.
Metro on 11/12/2016
Print Headline: Marine recalls '05 injury in Iraq, long road back