A Bakersfield High School graduate who lost both of his legs defending our country in Afghanistan, did his first television interview with 17 News. Jeremiah Thein stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) while trying to save the life of another marine. That marine was not hurt, and now Jeremiah is recovering at Walter Reed Hospital.
Jeremiah's accident happened just over a month ago. He's in good spirits, even cracking jokes. He also goes into great detail, remembering everything, when talking about the day he lost his legs.
"You know I was born and raised in Bakersfield," Thein tells us.
Proud to be from Bakersfield and proud to serve his country, 21-year-old Jeremiah Thein was strong and focused before his accident in Afghanistan.
Today, the Lance Corporal is still strong and focused at his room at Walter Reed Hospital.
"Is this my good side? Am I all right? Can you see the afro," Jeremiah joked from his hospital bed as we were setting up our camera.
We weren't expecting this humor from a man who just lost both of his legs and injured his left hand. Then again, what he did to get here was unexpected too and heroic.
"It was terrible what happened," recounted Thein.
On April 20, 2012, Jeremiah was the point man, leading his squad to inspect a building. A marine engineer got too far ahead, and Jeremiah ran into the building to get him. Like his wounds, the memories of that moment are fresh.
"I run to the top of the mound and I take one more step and I take one, my left foot to follow my step and I hear tsk! That's the sound I heard, and I looked down instantly and I see the corner of the pressure plate," remembered Jeremiah. "I turned around instantly and I just yelled at everybody to get back, and the engineer was close enough for me to push so I just pushed him. As I pushed him, the IED went off. And, when the IED went off I went into the air, and I say roughly ten feet, maybe. But, I was like this and this was my head when I hit the ground, and I was conscience throughout this whole thing. When I hit my head, I thought I snapped my neck. I didn't. I didn't snap my neck, but I did lose my legs. It was the most terrifying thing I ever seen in my life."
Jeremiah was the only one hurt in the explosion. He's had to undergo, what he admits, have been painful surgeries. His wife, Ashley, of less than a year has been there for him throughout. They both tell us, they hold onto each other a little tighter now.
"It's just really hard to think about life without him," said Ashley with tears welling in her eyes. "And, I just think of life without him and every day I just want to spend all of the time with him. And, you just never know. You see people fighting every day over the dumbest things, and it's like if you only knew."
Speaking of knowing, Iraq war veteran Wesley Barrientos knows too well what Jeremiah is facing, having also lost both of his legs in service. While in Washington, D.C. on their Wall to Wall journey, Wesley and Jeremy Staat visited Jeremiah in the hospital.
"I think the best part was when we came in and he shook everyone's hand. And, I was like I got blown up too. And, he was like I got prosthetics, and in that moment, that's when the idea changed that we could talk," said Barrientos of his visit with Thein.
"He was very happy to tell me about everything, about the prosthetics, about the procedures, about what is going to happen to me," said Thein of Barrientos. "He showed me the gel, and he showed me like everything. He let me look at his leg, let me grab it, let me touch it."
Besides his wife, Jeremiah surrounds himself with the things that motivate him, like his Marine Corps flag, a few handmade thank you notes, and a Driller bracelet from Bakersfield High School.
"Once a driller always a driller. Can you see that," Jeremiah said holding up his wrist to show his bracelet to our camera.
Jeremiah also keeps an American Flag close to his bed, reminding him why he made his sacrifice, saving lives, in spite of his legs.
"Just because I lost my legs doesn't mean I'm going to be, oh, I lost my legs. I'm not going to sorrow and cry over that, like heck no. I'm going to put my foot forward and get some prosthetics and still serve the country the way I did. If being a hero is doing your job, then everybody should be a hero," said Thein.
Jeremiah recently began rehab treatments. He'll likely stay at Walter Reed for at least another month. That's also where Jeremiah's wife will give birth to their first child, who will be named after Jeremiah. Their little boy is due in August.