Purple Heart Recipient Headed Back To Iraq - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

12/7/04-Mt. Pleasant

Purple Heart Recipient Headed Back To Iraq

For an East Texas soldier, Tuesday is Christmas celebration. Wednesday, it will be goodbye.

Twenty-year-old Pvt. First Class Brandon Nance was awarded a Purple Heart after he was wounded in a firefight in Iraq. He was sent home just before Thanksgiving for time off, but now it's back to the front lines.

"Our platoon's really struggling, so I want to go back over there. But, I don't want to go and leave my family and go back to fighting," Brandon says.

Brandon's family doesn't want to see him go back. But his job is in Iraq is in the center of the country -- in a violent place called Bayji.

"When I got there on the first day, we took contact, and we got shot at. We did really well that day. There were no American casualties, and a couple of enemy KIA, and it was a good start."

KIA stands for killed in action. In the nine months since he arrived, he's lost five of his buddies.

"After the first couple of times you're shot at, you pull together real close. Now if you're in a fire fight, you don't even have to say anything, you just look at someone and you know what to do," he says.

Most of these soldiers are young. Brandon is just 20. When they pulled onto a schools grounds a few months ago, the enemy was lurking in the shadows.

"We drove into the school like we always do, and they'd set up a couple of land mines waiting for us."

Then, bullets and rocket propelled grenades were incoming. PFC Brandon Nance was about to get hit.

"As soon as that happened, we had two RPGs hit the front wall, and that's where I took the metal in the arm."

The wound was bleeding badly. As he describes, medics "took the metal out and then just stuck a [red-hot rifle] barrel up there so it wasn't bleeding all over the place."

Then, Brandon went back to fighting.

Back home his mom Karen got the call no mother ever can imagine.

"You don't know how to act. It's your baby. Is he ok?"

She recalls thinking, "We got a call, we've got to go. I want to go over there. Just let me see him, just let me talk to him."

Every time the news comes on, stepdad Michael Hanks has just one fear.

"Lord, was he in that explosion?"

Brandon says: "Some of the stuff is amazing. We've built up three schools while we've been there, that's the good part, but at the same time we've blown up city blocks because we're getting shot at."

Today, Dad and Mom can hold their son who doesn't think he's a hero.

He and his family pray these next months in Iraq will end with him safe and sound.

Before he arrived home, Brandon's mom ran into a woman she had never met. She got some advice from a woman who lived this mother's pain too.

"She looked at me and put her hand on mine, and she said, 'When he gets ready to leave, you don't let him see tears.' She said 'You leave him with a smile, because he'll always remember his mama's smile.' So, I'll smile."

Brandon leaves Wednesday afternoon to head back for Iraq, but not before a big event. His family called us to say that Tuesday night, Brandon will marry his sweetheart, Alicia Johnson at a quickly-arranged ceremony in Mount Pleasant. Brandon told his family of the wedding just Monday night.

Reported by Morgan Palmer.

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