U.S. Army Pfc. Charles Douglas Harris is in Bethesda Army Medical Center. It’s not where he expected to be, but it’s going to be home for at least six months.
A month ago, on May 30, Harris was struck by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan. His injuries were severe — the loss of his right leg below the knee from the explosion, the amputation of his left leg later, a broken elbow and numerous gashes and contusions.
But, he survived and he’s still surviving, surrounded by his mother, Lisa, his father, Charles, both residents of Somerset, and his sister, Jessica on temporary duty assignment from Camp Lejeune, N.C..
Harris, known as “Doug” or “Douglas” to distinguish him from his father who has the same name, is a 2008 Union Mine graduate. He and younger sister Jessica each enlisted in the military in 2010 — Douglas in the U.S.Army and Jessica in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is assigned to the 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry, Attack Company and in December 2011, he was sent to Afghanistan for a one-year deployment.
The Mountain Democrat spoke to Harris on June 26. The previous day, he’d undergone 12 hours of surgery to reconstruct his right elbow and repair a gash in his hand using muscles relocated from his back, but he sounded amazingly alert and in command of his thoughts.
“The doctors say I’m recovering faster than expected,” said Harris.” I’m already in shrinkers.” A shrinker is a compression sock used on the residual limb to reduce swelling after healing has begun. It’s the first step toward being fitted with prosthetics, something Harris said he’s already looking forward to.
“It may take six months or more, depending on any setbacks before I’m ready to leave here,” said Harris. His voice sounds matter-of-fact and strong. It’s apparent that his mind is fixed firmly forward, already planning for the small apartment he will be living in at Bethesda while he learns how to become independent, learning new ways to do things he used to do without thinking. He’s focusing on the inspiration of other Bethesda patients like the fellow amputee who just finished his first 5K race and the double amputee who built a fishing boat so that he could continue to do what he loves.
Others, however, are devastated by Harris’ injuries. Don and Brenda Morgan of Somerset are family friends and Don Morgan often took Harris hunting and fishing. Brenda Morgan remembers him always playing video games at their house.
“We’ve known the family since Doug was 12, ” said Brenda.”We just fell to our knees when we heard.”The Morgans are caring for the Harris house and three cockatiels while the family is with Doug and Uppity-Pup boarding kennel and Doggie Daycare are boarding their three dogs without charge.
Harris’ father, Charles Harris, works in maintenance at Gold Country Retirement Center. He and wife, Lisa, flew out to Bethesda to be with their son when he arrived at Bethesda from Germany. While Charles will be returning to Placerville for work and traveling back and forth to see his son, Lisa Harris plans to stay in Maryland for as long as Doug needs her.
“We were wrecks when we first heard,” said Charles Harris, “and the first few days here were pretty rough, but once we could see and talk to him, we were better. He’s doing really well and the Army is taking good care of all of us.”
While “there are some long grueling days and some short days,” according to Charles Harris, Doug has no regrets ” He already has some favorite nurses,” said Charles Harris,”and he’s joking about losing 41 pounds on the IED diet.”
Charles is also thinking about the future, already planning what must be done to make the family home accessible for his son when he is released from the hospital.
Harris was awarded the Purple Heart and received a promotion to E-3 while in Betheseda. In addition to family members, he’s also had celebrity visitors such as President Obama, the crew of Air Force One, World Wrestling Entertainment superstar John Cena, the U.S. Secretary of Labor, the sergeant major of the Army and members of the Dave Matthews band. When asked what, if anything he wanted his friends in Placerville to know, Harris said, ”Thank you all for standing by me and helping me through this.” When a high school friend contacted him to find out how she could help, Harris told her to send things to his buddies who are still in Afghanistan.
Harris is determined to recover as soon as possible, already lifting weights and exercising. In an e-mail where Lisa Harris explained about her son’s injuries, she quoted one of Doug’s sergeants as saying, “A soldier can get knocked down, but you will never keep him down. You can take his legs, but still he will walk again. You can tell him he will never be the same and he will prove you wrong.”
Interested persons can check on Douglas’s progress on Facebook at facebook.com under Groups, Douglas Harris Recovery or send letters or cards to PV1 Charles Harris, WRNMMCB 1 Postal Operations, General Delivery, 8901 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, MD 20889-5600. An account has been set up in Douglas Harris’ name at Schools Financial Credit Union at 4278 Golden Center Dr., Placerville to help with Charles and Lisa Harris’ expenses while in Maryland with their son.