Spec. Jack Zimmerman sat atop a counter and placed his arm adorned with burn marks onto his walking cane. His slick, orange-clad tennis shoes practically glowed at the base of the steel poles that serve as his legs.
But that level of brightness had nothing on his smile, which lit up the rehabilitation room in which he shared his story. For approximately 15 minutes, the 23-year-old from Minnesota recalled how the legs he was born with were blown off in combat. How “red streaks” flashed before his eyes. How the next thing he knew, “One day, I woke up in here.”
“Here” was the Center for the Intrepid, San Antonio’s $50 million rehab facility for amputees and burn victims on the grounds of Brooke Army Medical Center. Hanging on Spec. Zimmerman’s every word was a group of a different kind simply humbled to be in his presence — heavy metallers God Forbid.
As part of a day off during the inaugural Trespass America festival taking place the next day at Freeman Coliseum, God Forbid visited the CFI on Thursday, touring the 65,000 square-foot, four-story facility (click on slideshow, top). The journey was made possible by Lt. Col. Bonnie Archer and Brooke Army staffer Chondra Perry.
Singer Byron Davis, guitarists Doc Coyle and Matt Wicklund, bassist John Outcalt and drummer Corey Pierce heard multiple stories like Zimmerman’s. They learned from Perry about a marine who had gone back into combat after having lost one of his limbs — and took five different prosthetics with him. They saw soldiers missing limbs or suffering burns or both smile as if they were taking a leisurely stroll through a park. And they came to the conclusion that although their “rock-star” presence uplifted the soldiers, it was the troops’ ultimate sacrifices and radiant attitudes that made them realize who were the real heroes on site.
Bands such as Disturbed and Trespass America headliners Five Finger Death Punch, to name a couple, are noted for visiting with troops and performing for them in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. But Thursday’s CFI tour was a first for New Jersey outfit God Forbid, which has been together for more than 15 years.
God Forbid saw living quarters, driving simulators, FlowRider wave stations used to help soldiers with agility and core strength, and other apparatuses that help wounded troops regain familiarity with things the rest of us tend to take for granted. After having their questions answered, posing for pictures with the soldiers and signing the shirts on the troops’ backs, band members unveiled a slew of posters, T-shirts and copies of their latest CD Equilibrium, which they happily autographed as well.
As they did so, Spec. Johnathan Thorne, 25, stood nearby with his 23-year-old brother, Spec. James Thorne and responded to a question about what God Forbid’s visit meant to them.
“Are you kidding me?” Johnathan said. “This is extremely rare. It’s nice to see them come up here. It means a lot.”
James Thorne listened and nodded from his wheelchair. Like Zimmerman, he lost both legs.
“What he said,” James stated of his brother. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Moments later, God Forbid handed the brothers from Santa Fe, N.M., some merch and posed for more pictures.
The CFI tour soon ended, but the troops’ experience was only beginning. They were put on the guest list for Friday’s concert and experienced the show from the photo pit, directly in front of the stage, for the first three songs of each of the seven artists.
For one day, the wounded warriors got to live like the rock stars they admire. But it’s safe to say neither the musicians nor soldiers are likely to forget what they had all experienced.
(Stay tuned for a review with slideshow and videos of the concert featuring Five Finger Death Punch, Killswitch Engage, Trivium, Pop Evil, Emmure, God Forbid and Battlecross).
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