FAIRBORN — Larry Draughn remembers vividly watching live news coverage the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was right around 14-years-old. I was in the 8th grade at Smith Middle School in Vandalia. I was in my Lit class when it came over the intercom for the teachers to turn the TVs on,” Draughn said.
He watched with his classmates, in disbelief, as the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
“That was eye opening for me that day to know that someone came here and took advantage of us and found a vulnerability in our country and killed innocent Americans. Put a knife in my heart that day. It’s like it’s time to do something about it,” he said.
Draughn’s chance to do something about it came five years later when he joined the Marines.
“I wanted to serve my country and I’d always remembered what had happened that day and I was like it’s time to go bring guys home alive and fight for this country.”
He took his new bride with him to the Marine Corps Base in Hawaii, deploying first to Iraq.
“It was hearts and minds. We were there to establish rapport with the local civilians and gain their trust,” Draughn said.
But while in Fallujah, a suicide bomber killed several of his battalion brothers.
When Draughn learned his second deployment would be to Afghanistan, he sent his wife and infant son home to Dayton, aware of the danger that lay ahead in Helmand Province.
The morning of May 30, 2009 proved both dangerous and productive. Draughn and his engineer “found probably over 20 IEDs.”
Later that day, he and other Marines were going to set up an ambush on known insurgents that were dug in “in a really, really bad area.”
Draughn describes what happened next.
“I was about the eighth guy on the patrol. Seven Marines ran across the danger area and I was number eight. As I went to run, that’s when I stepped on the bomb with my left foot, and it detonated underneath of me and that’s when my whole life pretty much changed.”
“I flew through the air, my whole life flashed in front of me. I could see my kids, my wife, and my dad--who’s no longer with us. I could just see him smiling, just everybody I cared about flashed in front of me. So, by the time I hit the ground, I had realized what had happened. My left leg was laying up on my head. They found my right foot still in the boot up in the trees.”
“I told them don’t give me any meds or anything. I said let me fight for my life because I knew it was going to be about an hour before we got to a medivac vehicle.”
“They got me on a stretcher. My guys carried me for 45 minutes to an hour on a gurney to a medivac vehicle.”
“I felt my body kind of slipping away while they were carrying me and I called my buddy over and I said, “Tell my wife and my kid I love them. I’m not coming home.”
Draughn did come home four months later to a hero’s welcome in Fairborn. But when the celebration was over, he had to learn to live without legs and two of his fingers and deal with the resulting anger and PTSD.
He said, “I started fishing and hunting and just being extremely involved with my kids. I love to hunt, and I love taking veterans hunting because I know what the outdoors has done for me. It’s kind of filled that void in my life, not being around my brothers in arms.”
And now the retired Marine Corporal is an avid hand cyclist, often riding with a group called Warriors on Wheels.
Draughn said, “So basically, I lay down on a bike and I crank with my arms. It’s a pretty good workout. It’s fun.”
Draughn could have easily been one of the more than 7,000 American service members the Department of Defense reported were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, a heavy price to pay in addition to the loss of nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11.
“Do I think we needed to go get the guys that did that to us? 100% yes,” he said.
With the U.S. War on Terror now officially over, he says the final pullout was “not very strategic, not very well planned, not very well executed.”
Draughn continued by saying, “It made me question a couple things over the last few weeks. Was it worth it? And I keep reminding myself yes, it was.”
He said hopes the sacrifices made by him and his fellow service men and women helped prevent another 9/11.
“I pray to God every day that it was worth it, and we did the right thing because I don’t want to live with regrets,” Draughn said.
Draughn, who was awarded a Purple Heart, has no regrets about his own service. But he wants the country to regain the bond that united us after that fateful day.
“We have to stand together like we did on 9/11 and never forget the ones that sacrificed their lives during 9/11, the ones that lost their lives on 9/11, and the ones that lost their lives after 9/11 fighting for the men and women and first responders that passed away on that day,” Draughn said.
©2021 Cox Media Group