'Still Breathing': 12 Years Later, Triple-Amputee Iraq War Vet Comes Home

Army Veteran Staff Sgt. Matthew Lammers drives on through the water during the Swimming event at the 2016 DoD Warrior Games at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. on June 20. The Games, running from June 15-21, are a Paralympic-type event for wounded, ill and injured personnel from the military representing all four U.S. Services, Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom.
Army Veteran Staff Sgt. Matthew Lammers drives on through the water during the Swimming event at the 2016 DoD Warrior Games at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. on June 20. The Games, running from June 15-21, are a Paralympic-type event for wounded, ill and injured personnel from the military representing all four U.S. Services, Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom.

It's been 12 years since retired Staff Sgt. Matt Lammers has felt comfort in his Olathe, Kansas, home.

Roughly 18 years ago he sat on the leather couch in his family's living room and watched the Twin Towers fall in New York City. The next day, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, hoping to be sent to the Middle East.

He didn't expect to return home and retire so soon. He was deployed twice to Iraq during his time as an infantryman in the army.

But in 2007, Lamers was returning to a base in Baghdad, Iraq, when his Humvee hit an explosive and he was sent home.

Lammers, then 25, came back to the United States having lost two legs and his left arm.

It's been a hard 12 years since: multiple suicide attempts, drug abuse and a bipolar disorder that went undetected for nearly a decade. He's had to learn how to navigate the world through his wheelchair, and to walk using prosthetic legs.

It's been difficult to come back to Olathe, Lammer said. The memories of playing catch out in his parents' yard and being in that living room again were too painful for him.

But after finding his wife, Alicia, and spending years in physical therapy, he said his prayers have finally been answered.

"If I'm being brutally honest, I'd never thought I'd have this peace in my heart until I passed on," Lammers said Monday.

Lammers returned to Olathe last week after competing in the Department of Defense's Warrior Games, a Paralympic-style competition for injured, ill and wounded veterans. He was on the Army's field, swimming, indoor rowing and sitting volleyball teams.

Before he was injured, Lammers only knew how to swim doggy-style, he said. But he found a love for being in the water and trying new swimming techniques.

With his renewed love of sports and support from his wife, Lammers felt the strength to come back to Kansas City, a place he's proudly touted through a "KC" tattoo that sits on his right hand. Before, he used to drive for hours from Arizona, pull up to the curb to say hello to his parents, and then turn around.

"Now he focuses on the positive," his wife Alicia said. "Instead of focusing on the things he can't do anymore, he focuses on the things he will do this time."

Earlier in the family's visit, the Lammers went to the National WWI Museum and Memorial to find the plaque that bore his own name for the first time. The museum grounds feature plaques recognizing veterans of conflicts since WWI.

When Lammers and his wife saw the plaque, Lammers broke down crying. He couldn't believe other veterans had only their initials etched into the ground, and someone thought he was deserving enough to spell out his full name.

"It was good to let it out and just start feeling," Lammers said.

Lammers took the Spartan pledge last August -- a vow veterans make to not commit suicide after returning from combat. He renewed his vows with his wife last year to commemorate what he thinks of as a new stage in his life.

He'll spend the next two weeks visiting his two daughters in Olathe. After that, he'll compete in the Valor Games in Florida, another Paralympic-style competition for veterans.

"My friends who didn't make it are my heroes," Lammers said. "I'm still breathing, I'm still here, and I want to live my life in their honor." 

This article is written by Nicole Asbury from The Kansas City Star and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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