Marine strives to overcome war injuries
Jon Schumacher's story: Part 1 of 2
In June, the Outlook learned about Gresham native Cpl. Jon Schumacher and his efforts to overcome debilitating injuries sustained in Afghanistan. Relatives notified The Outlook that Jon was coming home from San Diego for his first visit since stepping on an improvised explosive device, or IED, in October 2011.
Reporter Mara Stine met with Jon, his wife, Courtney, and their sons Ethan, 5, and Easton, 7 months.
The interview resulted in a two part series.
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It would be so easy to fixate on the seconds that could have made the difference between Cpl. Jon Schumacher stepping harmlessly over a buried improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, or stepping on it.
It would be just as easy to obsess about the pair of legs, fingers, outer hand and part of a forearm that were lost when the explosion ripped through his body.
Sure, he could think of the minutes, days, weeks and months leading up to the moment in which he became a triple amputee.
Instead, he thinks of the minutes, days, weeks and months leading up to the moment he became a husband and father.
He thinks of how empty his life would be had he not approached that curvy brunette at that bar that night, and how she said I do during their marriage vows just six weeks later; vows made a week before his first deployment.
He reflects on how within months of returning home safe and sound, they were expecting a baby.
Its this chain of events a chain spanning 14 months that makes Jons eyes well up. Its because of his support at home that he can handle returning from Afghanistan as a triple amputee.
But returning home as a single man without children?
That would be unbearable.
Born a Marine
Jon, 27, always liked the idea of being a Marine. But after graduating from Centennial High School in 2002, he joined his father, Harry, and two brothers, Geoff and Jimmy, in the construction trade.
I loved construction, he said. I loved it but something was missing.
As soon as he joined the Marine Corps in 2008, he found what he was looking for.
I fell in love with it as soon as I joined, he said. It was amazing.
Jon trained as part of the Third Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment based in Twentynine Palms, Calif., and prepared to be deployed to Afghanistan in March 2010.
But a month-and-a half before he deployed, Jon and a friend went to a bar in San Bernadino. There, as Jon and his buddy monopolized the bartender, an impatient woman stood in line for a beer.
Gosh, these guys need to hurry up, Courtney Klopfenstein told the friend shed gone to the bar with.
Jon, emboldened by too many tequila shots, turned to Courtney and serenaded her with his own rendition of Cowboy Casanova.
They talked, laughed and exchanged phone numbers. Each weekend, he drove more than an hour north to her home in Riverside to spend time with her.
We knew we were in trouble pretty early on, Jon said.
Not only did he fall head-over-heels in love with Courtney, but Jon also found a kindred spirit in her playful 2-year-old son, Ethan.
I am a big kid, Jon said. It looks weird if Im playing Micro Machines and Hot Wheels by myself. ... And he was the cutest boy Id ever met in my life. We fell in love before me and Courtney did.
A family is born
So on March 1, 2010, during a visit with Jons family in Gresham, Jon and Courtney got married in Portlands Pioneer Square. They figured a big wedding could wait until he got back from Afghanistan, and thought summer of 2012 looked good.
A week later, Jon deployed with 3/7 India Company to Afghanistans Sangin District of the Helmand Province. There his company helped clear out Taliban fighters to secure the area for local farmers and families.
While in Afghanistan, the company learned it would return for a second deployment.
In October, after seven sweltering months in Afghanistan, Jon returned to California with a new appreciation for family.
He legally adopted his stepson, who changed his last name to Schumacher.
Then the family of three settled into their first home just outside the military base in Twentynine Palms.
Jon continued training and in May 2011, they discovered Courtney was pregnant.
In September, just before Jon deployed for a second time, they found out they were having a boy.
On Sept. 25, 2011, Jon left for Afghanistan knowing the next time he came home, it would be to welcome his son, Easton, into the world.
A turning point
A month later, on Oct. 30, Ethan was coloring the outside of a box to make into a goodie-filled care package for his dad just like he and his mom did every Sunday when the phone rang.
Courtney didnt recognize the incoming phone number, which thrilled her. She assumed it was her husband calling from Afghanistan.
Instead, it was Quantico, the U.S. Marine Corps training base in Virginia.
Jon had been in an accident. He was part of a group of eight Marines on patrol when they noticed some suspicious men in the area. The group moved to cut them off. Jon was in the back, second to last, when he stepped on the explosive device.
Somehow, the six men in front of him stepped over it.
The corpsman behind me got to me before the dust even settled, Jon said.
Jon was evacuated from the scene to emergency surgery in Afghanistan, then flown to Germany for more surgery.
The blast destroyed his legs from just above the knee down. It also severed his pinky, ring finger and middle finger, the outermost part of his hand and part of his forearm.
His left thumb and index finger, for the most part, remained intact.
Finding his true strength
Jon doesnt remember much of the blast or what happened in the frantic aftermath. He does remember waking up at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he was flown on Nov. 5.
As he underwent more surgery, his wife kissed Ethan goodbye and boarded a plane to be at her husbands side.
It was hard to leave her son behind, but Courtney wanted him to maintain his routine of preschool and T-ball practice.
So Ethan stayed in California with his maternal grandparents while his mother flew across the country.
At more than 35 weeks into her pregnancy, she barely made the cutoff date when pregnant women are no longer allowed to fly.
On Dec. 17, it was Jons turn to be at her bedside.
Two floors above Jons hospital ward, she delivered Easton Geoffrey Schumacher.
Jon cut the umbilical cord.
Doctors motioned for him to hold his newborn son, but Jon was terrified. With his damaged left hand immobilized, hed have to hold the baby with only his right hand.
He reached for the bundle, cradled the baby in his palm and laid his newborn son on his lap.
With Eastons face peering up at him, Jon remembered thinking that taking care of a baby while in a wheelchair may require some adjustments.
But basking in the glow of fresh humanity, Jon also came to another realization.
Everything was going to be OK.