Local Marine loses both legs, not his spirit

FAIRBORN — Marine Lance Cpl. Larry Draughn Jr. credits his remarkable recovery after losing both legs in Afghanistan on May 31 to his stubbornness and something he learned from his late father.

“I don’t let nothing keep me down. That’s one thing my dad taught me,” said Draughn, who is walking on new prosthetic legs with the aid of two canes.

He continues to go through physical therapy at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Draughn’s 58-year-old father died in 2007 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease right after the teen got out of boot camp. On oxygen for the last three years of his life, he’d attach his tank to the lawn mower and go cut the grass.

Larry’s mother, Barbara Draughn of Fairborn, said her son also saw the determination of his late grandfather, Arlo Hardman of Fairborn, who lost both feet to diabetes when he was 70 but learned to walk again.

“That’s one of the first things he said, ‘If my grandfather could do it at 70 years old, I could do it at 21.’ ”

Doctors and physical therapists have marveled at how far the young Marine has come since he stepped on an improvised explosive device during a patrol with his unit.

The Meadowdale High School graduate will return home on Monday, Aug. 31, to Fairborn, where family and others in the community are planning a surprise homecoming.

Greene County commissioners have declared Monday Lance Cpl. Larry Draughn Jr. Day.

“We would like to give him a hero’s homecoming by lining the streets with people, flags and signs to let him know how much we appreciate the sacrifice he and his young family have made,” said Fairborn City Council member Frank Cervone, who has been working with state Rep. Jarrod Martin’s office.

Plans include an escort by the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Patriot Guard Riders along Interstate 70, I-675 and Ohio 444 to a family residence on Sharon Drive in the Rona Hills neighborhood. Fairborn fire and police also will be involved in the homecoming, as will a Marine Corps color guard and the Fairborn High School marching band.

The public is invited to line the route along Ohio 444, Black Lane and Bluegrass Drive and should be in place by 4:45 p.m. Monday, organizers said.

Draughn will be on convalescent leave for a few weeks in the Miami Valley before returning to Walter Reed for more therapy.

He was wounded two weeks after arriving in Afghanistan with his unit from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment out of the Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay.

His left leg was amputated midway between his knee and thigh; his right one above the shin. He also lost two fingers on his right hand and broke three fingers on his left.

On June 5, he arrived at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Barbara Draughn recalled her son asking the medical staff at there: “How quick can you get a double amputee out of here?”

Three weeks had been the earliest they’d seen someone leave, they told him.

“He did it in two weeks and two days,” his mother said.

Draughn said he was motivated to beat that earlier record.

“I wanted to be the first to do it.”

Coming home next week will allow Draughn and his wife, Kaytlin, to celebrate their son Garon’s first birthday on Sept. 9 with family and friends.

Larry Draughn celebrated his 22nd birthday in July with a special cake made by the Baltimore custom cake shop of Food Network star Chef Duff Goldman.

Draughn’s mother-in-law, Carol Hazlett of Fairborn, wanted to do something special so she contacted Charm City Cakes, featured on the popular Food Network show “Ace of Cakes.” There was a $1,000 deposit required to order a cake but after the staff learned Draughn’s story, they offered to make the cake for free.

“They came and spent two hours with him,” Barbara Draughn said. The red velvet cake contained the Marine Corps emblem, a rifle and a fishing pole, capturing his main interests.

Barbara Draughn said she’s been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from people wanting to help her son and family.

Some of the strongest support has come from her co-workers at Miami Valley Hospital, where she works the late shift on the Emergency Room’s information desk.

“They donated their personal time off and that money went into her bank of time off,” hospital spokeswoman Nancy Thickel said. The hospital’s foundation, the Mueller Society, also awarded her funds to assist her financially through the ordeal.

It was a big help.

“It allowed me to keep my focus on Larry,” she said.

All summer, Barbara and Kaytlin Draughn took turns e-mailing updates about his progress to family and friends back in the Miami Valley.

“He doesn’t realize how many people back home have been praying and keeping up with his story,” his mother said.

Last week, Draughn walked onto the field at the Washington Nationals’ ball park with 6-foot-6 slugger Adam Dunn.

It was a thrill for the young Marine who first met Dunn when he played for the Dayton Dragons in 2000. The then-student had won a contest to spend the day with the team at Fifth Third Field.

Draughn has been getting out more on his new prosthetic legs.

He’s feeling good about his recovery but said the biggest challenge has been learning to walk again.

“I’ll be walking without canes some day,” he said, “hopefully sooner than later.”

In December, he plans to travel back to Hawaii to welcome home his fellow Marines still serving in Afghanistan.

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