Video: Coming Home: Brian visits Walter Reed

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 11/13/2006 8:21:26 PM ET 2006-11-14T01:21:26

"I guess I have a lot stronger mind and spirit than I always thought I did," says Army Spec. Crystal Davis.

At the ripe old age of 21, Davis found herself behind the wheel of a truck in Iraq when an IED went off and her world was blown apart. Her convoy was hit, and despite the glass in her eyes she knew her left leg was crushed beneath the seat, and she knew her right foot would have to come off.

"It was connected by muscles and tissues," she says, "and it was just hanging there."

Her Dad Jimmy dropped everything when the phone rang at home in South Carolina. Crystal and Jimmy weren't on speaking terms when she left, but he has not left his daughter's side since she's been back.

"I don't believe I ever had as much courage as she got," says her father.

"I knew when I signed the papers to begin with, that I was going to be a lifer," says Davis. "It's just speed bumps in the road — it's an obstacle course. You go up and down and side to side and finally, you'll make it to the finish line."

In a big room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Davis' are just one story. As they say at Walter Reed, there's always someone worse off.

So far, 508 U.S. servicemen and women have returned from this nation's dual wars having lost at least one limb. While the numbers are grim, Ward 57 is not. In fact, quite the opposite.

"Each one will uplift you if you talk to them," says Lt. Col. Paul Pasquina, Chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

This is hardly a place for pity. In fact, it's all about inspiration. Visitors are routinely moved to tears at the displays of strength they see. Without trying to, these wounded fighters actually manage to change the lives of all those they touch.

Pasquina has never had a bad day here.

"Most people think, 'Boy how could you keep doing this, and take care of these poor injured soldiers?'" says Pasquina, "but as you see, being here is uplifting. Our injured service members motivate us every day to keep working."

The sheer number of visitors seems designed to keep the patients busy. During our visit a group of South Korean military chaplains stopped by, as did members of the NYPD.

Then there are the guys like Tom Porter. As decent and genuine as they come, he volunteers here, and has an easy way with the wounded warriors. You'd never know he lost both legs in Korea, but that's the point.

"I think maybe just walking in does more than anything anybody might say," says Porter.

Tom Porter is one of the reasons it feels safe here. No one stares, no one asks questions about what they did in the war. And after awhile, you no longer notice the artificial legs that are the titanium trademark of this busy body shop for genuine heroes.

And this atmosphere, along with a grievous injury, has brought back together a father and his hard-headed, heroic daughter.

"Well, of course I always loved her, but we had some disagreements before she went in the Army," says Jimmy Davis.

It's funny the thing's in life that bring people together.

"It is, it really is," he says. "I always thought she was going to push me around in a wheelchair, as old as I am. But, I'm doing it for her."

Still, Crystal Davis will run her father around the block someday.

"Oh yeah," she says. "Our agreement is when I start running, he starts running."

Crystal Davis is a unique spirit — one of only about a dozen female amputees to come through Walter Reed. But she's also similar to all the other patients in Ward 57 in one fundamental way: she wants to return to the fight. Her goal is to recover sufficiently enough to return to Iraq, where her brother is on active duty.

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