Andrew Lowe was deep in the heart of Iraq last week, chasing insurgents. They disappeared down an alleyway, and the Lodi native and his fellow U.S. Marines followed.
Lowe kicked in a door and that's when it happened. An 82 mm mortar exploded.
"I hit the ground and got right back up and started running. I got about 20 meters away and everyone was yelling at me to stop because I might be hit," Lowe said by telephone from his hospital bed. "Then I looked down at my body and it felt like I was peeing my pants. But I wasn't peeing, the blood was pouring out of my legs.
"One of my Marines came over and put a tourniquet on my leg and two Marines carried me to a courtyard, and I got MedEvacced out of there."
Much had changed since 18 months earlier, when the corporal was stationed in Afghanistan and his mother, Patricia Hadsall, organized a school supply and clothing drive for children there. She mailed dozens of boxes filled with donations from Lodi residents, while waiting for the time her son would return from overseas.
Then Lowe, who turned 22 in September, deployed overseas a second time. Had it not been for his comrades who realized an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) had hit an artery in that Oct. 18 explosion, he likely would have died, his mother said.
Lowe has a long way to go before he'll be back in California. He's undergone four surgeries and might need another one to remove more shrapnel doctors missed previously.
He's back at his home base in Hawaii, but he's generally confined to a hospital bed where he tries to take his mind off the pain. He hasn't forgotten much about the day his life changed, either.
After his comrades carried him to a safer area, Lowe was flown by helicopter to a nearby base in Iraq. There he underwent his first surgery, in which doctors removed shrapnel and put a plastic tube in his right leg to keep blood flowing.
He was then flown to Germany, where the next surgery involved taking veins from his left leg to be used in place of the tube.
In a third surgery, doctors lanced both sides of his leg almost to the bone to prevent "compartmentalization," which Lowe said makes the leg swell to the size of a watermelon and frequently happens in IED injuries. The fourth surgery closed those incisions.
Now he's lying in a hospital bed and probably won't leave for a couple months â€" something he's not used to after four years of military service.
"I just wish I could be back with my platoon," Lowe said. "I just feel pretty useless laying in a hospital bed while they're all still out there."
He previously spent time in Afghanistan, and it was his stint there that got Lodi citizens involved in sending supplies to children in July 2005. Lowe's lieutenant suggested that family members, who had wanted to help, could send winter clothing and school supplies.
Hadsall took up the idea, and she was soon clearing out her garage just to have a place to keep the clothing until she could get it shipped overseas. She estimated that she sent at least 50 large boxes, but somewhere along the way she lost count.
"I was mailing boxes for months," Hadsall said. "I never had to pay any mailing costs because people covered it. It was a much bigger operation than I had ever planned."
The village had several hundred children, and there was plenty of clothing for all of them, Lowe said.
"They're awesome kids," he added.
The residents there were grateful, and the Marines built up such a rapport that they were soon giving the soldiers information about hidden weapons caches and the location of insurgents, Hadsall said.
Hadsall was thrilled with the response and the payoff. Though she has mixed feelings about the war, she was happy to be able to send clothes to needy children.
"I've always been the peace-loving hippie. (Lowe) was born in Canada and I always said, 'If there's a war I'll take him back to Canada.' And then he joined the Marine Corps," she said.
Lowe was 18 months old when the family moved to the United States, and he attended elementary school in Lodi and one year at Lodi High School. His parents divorced, and Lowe went to live with his dad in San Diego.
He returned from Afghanistan in January and would have likely finished his military service at his base in Hawaii, but he extended his service to go to Iraq. Lowe said he didn't plan to stay in the military as a career, but that he wanted to go with his men to Iraq.
He arrived there Sept. 13, exactly five weeks before encountering the mortar.
"He called me two days before it happened and said he was surprised by the amount of violence, planted IEDs, insurgence. He'd had enemy contact 15 times," Hadsall said.
Of 200 Marines in Lowe's troop, three had already been killed and 17 injured before Lowe was wounded, his mother said.
She knew the risks and never stopped worrying, and her son also knew how upset she'd be if something happened. When he entered the military and filled out forms listing immediately family members to contact, Lowe put his father's name first and specified that someone had to be with his mother before she was notified.
Because of that, Marine officials called Lowe's father to say he had been wounded and was in a hospital. No further information came for 16 hours, and only then did Lowe's father call Hadsall. She said it was better that way, since there was nothing she could have done.
Now Hadsall and other family members are booking flights and staggering schedules in an effort to keep a family member with Lowe as much as possible. His father flew to Hawaii on Friday, and Hadsall is leaving Wednesday.
Hadsall feels fortunate that her son made it out alive, and she had always known that might not be the outcome.
"You can play a numbers game and see what his chances are," she said. "But it's so violent over there, I don't think there's a mom that doesn't worry â€" or any family member that doesn't worry."
First published: Saturday, October 28, 2006