ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Friday will mark five years since a Minnesota lawmaker nearly died while serving his country in Iraq.
“People who have been through this, similar things, we call this our ‘Alive Day,'” said SSG John Kriesel.
Kriesel lost both his legs on December 2, 2006 after his Humvee drove over an IED near Fallujah, Iraq.
The explosion killed two of his best friends.
“Seeing all the blood and everything — I was pretty sure that’s where my life was going to end,” said Kriesel.
It almost did. In an instant, the explosion shredded both of his legs from the knee down. Before he could even feel pain, he knew he was dying.
“I remember thinking that when my friends tell my wife that I passed away, you know, that I wasn’t freaking out, that I was calm and at peace with it,” said Kriesel.
They never had to tell her, however. Kriesel doesn’t remember being flown to Walter Reed Medical Center, but he does remember waking up to see his wife’s face, and then learning that his legs had been amputated.
“Then I asked about the others and that’s when she told me that Corey and Bryan had given their life,” said Kriesel.
A picture taken in Iraq showed Corey Rystad on Kriesel’s right and Bryan McDonough on his left. It was taken just two hours before both men lost their lives in the explosion.
“They were two of the greatest guys you will ever meet. When you are over there, you spend so much time together. You are so close and you have all these plans when you get back. That was the toughest thing is all the plans that we had, realizing when I woke up at the hospital that I was never going to see them again,” said Kriesel.
Kriesel says they are still with him every day, however. He wears a bracelet with their names on it.
There are other reminders, too. Every morning, after he takes a shower, Kriesel has to put on his metal legs before he can leave the house.
“I see the scars all over my body. They are constant reminders and they are with me every day,” said Kriesel.
Kriesel is a husband, a father of two boys, and has written a book about his experience called “Still Standing.”
In 2010, he was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican, but doesn’t toe the party line on all issues, including gay marriage. He said he believes gay marriage should be legal and he says the reason is simple: it took one second for him to realize that life is too short, and the greatest tragedy of all would be to spend it unhappy.
“You are never too cool to tell your parents you love them. You are never too cool to tell your friends you love them. Most importantly, slow down and enjoy life. I used to get wrapped up in school and work, but not anymore. I’m happier now than I have ever been in my life. On those tough days, it reminds me that I have no room to feel sorry for myself or get down because I got a chance that my friends didn’t get and I’m not going to waste it,” said Kriesel.