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Veterans Day 2014

Purple Heart recipient, other vets speak to CES students today

Posted: November 7, 2014 2:03 p.m.
Updated: November 10, 2014 1:00 a.m.
Taken from the video “Reawakening”/Gerry Melendez

Retired Army Sgt. Ramond Guitard walks on his prosthetic legs while pulling on of his children in a wagon. Surgeons amputated both legs, in separate surgeries, after he was injured by an IED in Iraq during his second tour of duty in 2004. Guitard, a Purple Heart recipient, is scheduled to speak to students at Camden Elementary School today.

Several veterans are scheduled to speak to students at Camden Elementary School (CES) today as it celebrates Veterans Day.

Today, students will recognize and honor these veterans during CES’ annual Veterans Day program. Those veterans include retired Army Maj. Gen. Julian Burns, retired Marine Corps. Capt. George Gibson -- and retired Army Sgt. Ramon Guitard, a Purple Heart recipient.

Guitard’s story begins 31 years ago when, as a premature baby boy wearing only a dirty diaper, he was found abandoned on a street in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, N.Y. A family adopted him after he spent a month in the hospital and lived in New York until he was 13 when his family moved to Georgetown County in South Carolina. Guitard grew up aware of his adoption, but only learned about six years ago that he had been found abandoned.

Guitard joined the Army right out of high school and was in basic training when drill sergeants called the troops together to inform them of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. On Oct. 9, 2004, during his second tour in Iraq, the then 22-year-old  U.S. Army specialist and generator mechanic was riding in a convoy of vehicles heading south from Baghdad toward Kuwait. Guitard’s group -- he served with the 659th Maintenance Company -- had just been warned they were heading for a stretch of landscape known for hidden roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Riding shotgun, Guitard’s world shattered when his unarmored vehicle took a direct hit from an IED.

“There was a massive, bright flash of light and a tremendous boom,” Guitard remembered. “My ears started ringing, and … I smelled smoke rising from underneath me and I heard the female soldier behind me screaming, ‘My legs! My legs!’ When I heard her screaming, I looked down at my legs, and there was a big hole in the floorboard under me and both my legs were split open like Subway sandwiches.”

Guitard ended up in a hospital in Baghdad where he blacked out. Surgeons amputated his right leg above the knee and placed him in a medically induced coma. Guitard woke up a month later in the intensive care unit at Washington, D.C.’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center where surgeons replaced his ruined left knee with a titanium rod joining the upper and lower leg, fusing the former knee joint in place. Guitard spent 18 months at Walter Reed and underwent more than 50 procedures.

In February 2008, four years after the explosion, doctors amputated Guitard’s left leg above the knee after an infection took hold and would not let go. Going from one leg to no legs proved to be more difficult than he imagined. Guitard wanted to be more mobile and help his wife and family more.

Guitard made a decision that would change his life. He attended the 2008 Amputee Coalition’s national conference as a bilateral above-knee amputee. Before attending the conference, Guitard lugged around a wheelchair, two canes and two computerized prosthetic legs. After attending the conference for less than two full days, Guitard could walk on his prostheses unassisted.

“Since that time,” he says, “I haven’t used my canes at all. I use my prosthetic legs all the time now.”

And Guitard hasn’t ever looked back, moving forward with his new legs, rather running forward, one could say.

Guitard is actively engaged in voluntary service directed at the needs and improvement of his community. He overcame his obstacles and helps others do the same; promotes positive attitudes towards people with disabilities and encourages them to lead independent lives. Guitard has created a domino effect, teaching others how to assist other veterans. And, in spite of yet another adversity -- the diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia -- Ramon Guitard, father of four, said he will not be stopped.

“Regardless of what you’ve been through, there is a reason to go on. There’s a purpose. Like I tell my kids, think positive, be positive, never settle for less,” Guitard said.

CES’ Veteran’s Day program begins at 8 a.m. with a veterans’ breakfast followed by the program at 9 a.m. All veterans and their families are welcome as the students and staff say, “Thank you.”

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