A salute by an Army Ranger — hospitalized with serious wounds after a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan — is warming hearts after being posted online, moving his wife to declare him a "badass" and "the epitome of what a man and an American and a soldier is."
Cpl. Josh Hargis’ commander was at a military hospital in Afghanistan right after doctors stabilized his injuries awarding the seemingly unconscious soldier a Purple Heart, pinning the medal to the blanket covering him.
And that's when Hargis surprisingly raised his bandaged arm to salute — struggling with his doctors and medical tubes to do so.
The commander sent a picture along with a letter about the incident to Hargis’ wife, Taylor, writing that "grown men began to weep" at the sight of the salute.
The commander added that it was “the single greatest event I have witnessed in my ten years in the Army.”
Hargis was wounded by shrapnel on Oct. 6 when an Afghan woman detonated a suicide bomb vest, killing four members of his 3rd Army Ranger Battalion and wounding 12 other American soldiers, according to a report on the website of the soldier's hometown newspaper in Ohio, the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The four fallen soldiers became inextricably linked with the government shutdown in the past two weeks, as their families expressed grief and outrage over the fact that the government was withholding a $100,000 "death gratuity" normally paid out to relatives to help them out financially until survivor benefits kick in.
Hargis had a breathing tube inserted and his right arm was wrapped up, according to the Enquirer. He had just come out of surgery when he was presented with the Purple Heart, his wife told the paper.
Taylor Hargis posted the picture along with the note on Facebook Oct. 12, where it has been shared more than 5,500 times. The story and picture were also distributed on the Guardian of Valor website, which called the picture the "the salute seen around the world."
"When I look at that picture, I just think of how proud I am," Taylor Hargis told NBC affiliate WBBH in Florida, near her hometown of Fort Myers.
"He is badass and he is strong, and he is the epitome of what a man and an American and a soldier is."
The letter from the commander, according to Taylor Hargis' Facebook post, read in part:
"Josh, whom everybody in the room (over 50 people) assumed to be unconscious, began to move his right arm under the blanket in a diligent effort to salute the Commander as is customary during these ceremonies. Despite his wounds, wrappings, tubes, and pain, Josh fought the doctor who was trying to restrain his right arm and rendered the most beautiful salute any person in that room had ever seen. I cannot impart on you the level of emotion that poured through the intensive care unit that day.
"Grown men began to weep and we were speechless at a gesture that speak volumes about Josh's courage and character. The picture, which we believe belongs on every news channel and every newspaper, is attached. I have it hanging above my desk now and will remember it as the single greatest event I have witnessed in my ten years in the Army."
Hargis, 24, is a 2007 graduate of of Dater High School on the city’s west side and attended the University of Cincinnati, NBC affiliate WLWT in Cincinnati reported. He has since been moved from Afghanistan to Germany and onto San Antonio, Texas, the station said.
A reporter for another local station, WCPO, spoke to Hargis’ mother Laura Heitman, who said that Taylor and Josh Hargis are expecting their first child. Heitman also said she had recently talked to her son.
Her son, she said, “sounded amazing when I talked to him. He was in good spirits.”
Taylor Hargis said she expects a long recovery for her husband, but vowed to be by his side for it.
"Who knows what's next? These are definitely different plans than we had imagined, but we're happy we still get to have one."
Terri Wessel, who said she had taught Hargis in high school, told WCPO that the picture brought tears to her eyes.
“Seeing the picture of him saluting was the first I knew of him being injured,” Wessel told the station.”I teared up when I saw the picture but smiled at the same time as that picture summed up the type of man that Josh is. True American hero in my mind.”
NBC's Elizabeth Chuck contributed to this report.
First published October 15 2013, 8:25 PM