[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/15/knowjr.art.jpg
caption=”J.R. Martinez, 25, is a national spokesperson for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes.”]
J.R. Martinez wanted to give back to the country that gave him and his family so much. The 25-year-old enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 2002, much to the hesitation of his El Salvadorian mom. In February of 2003, he deployed to Iraq, promising his mom he’d return in one piece. That April, he did.
His body was in one piece, but badly burned and scarred. “I knew it was going to be a bad day,” J.R. remembers of the day he was serving as the driver of his unit’s Humvee when the left front tire hit a land mine. J.R. suffered smoke inhalation and severe burns to more than 40% of his body. His mother met him at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, to help him recover from the 32 different surgeries he’d undergo over the next 34 months.
During that time, he realized that the injury might have been a blessing in disguise. He became a national spokesperson for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes. He also became a lead actor on the daytime Soap Opera “All My Children,” not needing much preparation to play a veteran wounded overseas. Reacting to all his recent success and confidence, J.R. simply says, “Dream and dream big, because it’s free and it’s something no one can take away from you.”
Update: Watch the CNN.com Live interview