The Purple Heart is one of the most recognized awards given to military members injured in the line of duty. A marine recently received the award at the Marine Corps detachment on Luke Air Force Base for injuries sustained while fighting in Afghanistan.
He vividly recalls the events that led up to his injury and the difficult road to recovery that earned him one of the United States’ oldest awards.
“I was on patrol with a squad from the 1st Light Armor Reconnaissance Battalion based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.,” said Keith Darnall, a retired Marine Corps staff sergeant who served as a counter intelligence specialist. “We stopped at an area frequently visited to check its potential to be developed into a fortified position. I was holding a security position with my interpreter when I noticed a male Afghan watching us from the south side of the river.”
Darnall went to speak to his squad leader about the suspicious individual and as their squad moved out of sight, the Afghan detonated an improvised explosive device. The device detonated right under Darnall and his squad members, killing one Marine and leaving another with serious fractures from the blast.
“When the bomb went off, I just remember hearing the explosion and seeing things flying,” he said.
Darnall’s training immediately took over after the blast as he slowly regained consciousness.
“I dragged my interpreter to cover and started directing the Marines around me to take up positions in case of an ambush,” he said.
Darnall sustained a traumatic brain injury from the blast and to this day has issues with his memory and concentration.
“We can be in the middle of a conversation and I will completely forget what we were talking about,” he said.
He suffers from chronic migraines and some days is unable to get out of the bed. He also sustained damage to his spine. These injuries have prevented him from spending time with his family like he wants to.
“The worst part is not being able to spend time with my kid,” Darnall said. “I will start to play with my son and 20 minutes later I get a migraine, and I have to tell him, ‘Daddy has to go lay down right now. I can’t play with you,’” he said. “It sucks because I can see he really wants to spend time with me.”
Darnall has no regrets though. Joining the Marines is one of the best things he has done, he said. He is grateful to have received the Purple Heart, but at first he was skeptical whether he deserved the award.
“Before I had these injuries, I was skeptical of other people who said they had injuries,” Darnall said. “I grew up deploying where if an injury wasn’t severe, you didn’t get a Purple Heart. These types of invisible injuries were hard for me to accept initially because I didn’t understand the extent of my injuries.”
Darnall now has a new respect for people with similar injuries. More people should receive this award for these injuries, he said. However, he knows that cases like his are difficult to prove. He takes life on a day-to-day basis and is grateful to the Marines Corps for recognizing his service.