LUDLOW, Ill. (WCIA) — Derek Fitzpatrick comes from a long line of military service, and after graduating high school, he knew it was his turn to step up and serve.
Even if that meant putting his life at risk.
He served in the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008. It’s been 14 years, but not a day goes by where he doesn’t think about his time in war.
“February 14th, I literally came two meters from an RPG, blew up and I walked away from it,” Fitzpatrick said. “Don’t ask me how.”
He said he is lucky to be alive.
He almost lost his life in Afghanistan, but said even the threat of death wouldn’t have turned him away from serving.
“Our whole family’s done it,” Fitzpatrick said. “So for me, it was one of those things, it was my time to step up to the plate.”
But what really pushed him to enlist?
“After watching 9/11 on TV in 8th grade, that was definite,” Fitzpatrick said. “I had to go.
He was 14 years old when he watched terrorists take down the Twin Towers. That was enough for him to risk everything to save others. In 2008, he was deployed to the Middle East.
“The unknown was probably the worst,” Fitzpatrick said. “Because you didn’t know if you were going to be here today or not tomorrow.”
His company provided security to a project construction team, and during that time, he had a few scares.
“We rolled a truck on its side, and I actually popped four vertebraes in my back. Had to pop them back in place” Fitzpatrick said. “I have a disability from it.”
He also locked eyes with the same terrorists he once saw on television.
“It took quite a few times getting shot at and being scared,” Fitzpatrick said. “Being scared was comfort. It was when you were no longer scared of getting shot at, is when it really scares you. Because you make mistakes. Confidence makes mistakes.”
After 9/11 happened, the country rallied together, and the support of troops was at an all-time high as many wanted justice for the thousands of lives lost.
“We got gift boxes all the time,” Fitzpatrick said. “Even from people in California.
The support didn’t stop there. A bus drove him and his squad through Illinois and communities gathered to cheer for them.
“The only time I’ve ever teared up for something like that is because there were many people on the side of the roads just welcoming us home,” Fitzpatrick said.
While the images of war often run through his mind, Fitzpatrick said he would do it all over again, just so the next generation doesn’t have to.
Fitzpatrick wants to encourage other veterans to talk about their experience. He said it’s better to have a hard conversation with someone you trust than to suffer alone.