How this wounded warrior and a 4th-grade girl became friends on a bear hunt

Marine Corps vet Sgt. Zachary Stinson stood using his arms during the national anthem at a 2012 Team USA basketball game. He’s back in the news after developing a special friendship with a young fourth-grader in Maine.

Marine Corps Sgt. Zachary Stinson lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. But that didn’t stop him from standing for the national anthem during a 2012 Team USA Olympic exhibition game, raising himself up in his wheelchair by the armrests.

This iconic photo of Stinson has reemerged in the wake of NFL players’ refusing to stand for the national anthem before games. With his new notoriety, Stinson’s story is garnering more attention.

Stinson’s story

His life changed during a foot patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan. Stinson was leading his men into a village for a battle assessment when he made a fateful decision: He ordered his men to stop while he went ahead alone.

A wall ran around the entire village. Stinson scaled it and jumped over to the other side.

When he landed, he triggered an improvised explosive device, or IED. The blast took off both his legs above the knee and severely damaged both his hands. He endured 25 surgeries and countless hours of physical therapy to recover.

“I was kind of angry and trying to figure it out,” Stinson told the Bangor Daily News. “It just came to me: The world’s going to keep turning. And in all honesty, it doesn’t really care about me. So I can sit back and be angry about it and be miserable, but the world’s going to keep moving and I’m just going to be angry. So I was like, ‘I’ll just keep moving with it.’ I kind of accepted it.”

A native of Chambersburg, Pa., Stinson returned to his hometown to live in a house specially built for him. It was provided by Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit that collaborates with local builders, suppliers, and volunteers to build homes for disabled veterans.

A most unique friendship

Stinson has also been joining moose and bear hunts in Maine through the charity House in the Woods, which provides a therapeutic retreat for veterans who’ve suffered traumatic injuries. It was there he struck up an unlikely friendship with a fourth-grade student along for the hunt.

“I met him last year at the bear hunt and we became really good friends,” Kaelyn Cloukey told WABI News.

The Cloukey family hosted Stinson last year. “Our Kaelyn went straight to him, stayed to his hip and didn’t leave for a week,” her father, Justin, told the news station.

“I always keep an open mind. When God blesses you with opportunities, you jump at them, so who am I to turn something away? Especially a great friendship,” said Stinson.

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