John Kriesel somehow survived a roadside bombing that claimed his legs and two buddies. Although his story has been often told in the media, it's still hard not to feel something as you read this all-too-real tale of tragedy and hope.
How do we measure our war heroes? By the medals bestowed upon them? By the amount of blood they've given? By their willingness to do battle, despite the costs?
The first time I interviewed Sgt. John Kriesel, I was convinced the guy was 10 feet tall, even without prosthetic legs.
Kriesel, who grew up in Vadnais Heights, was in the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, recovering from an explosion in Iraq that blew his Humvee off a dirt road and blew away his legs, crushed his pelvis and shattered bones in both arms. He talked to me over the phone, telling me in graphic detail about a chill that gripped his entire body. I felt chills just listening to him.
In "Still Standing" (Beaver's Pond Press, 312 pages, $19.95, written with Jim Kosmo), Kriesel's account of what happened that day -- Dec. 2, 2006 -- puts the reader right inside that full-armored Humvee, right in Kriesel's Army boots. You don't have to have served near Fallujah to know what Kriesel experienced. It's all here -- and in mind-blowing detail.
Kriesel recalls one Humvee door being blown away and flying through the air like a 400-pound Frisbee. But he's in much worse shape, with serious wounds throughout what's left of his body. He somehow even knows that it is a bracelet he wore, to honor a fallen soldier, that has sliced his wrist to the bone.
Kriesel told his story to journalist Kosmo, who made the decision to write Kriesel's story in present tense. Some fellow writers questioned the detail awarded to the explosion that brought Kriesel into the public focus. But the power of this description paints a vivid picture of horror that leaves the reader rooting for this Minnesota kid. No matter what your opinion of the war, you'll be blown away by Kriesel's story.
Throughout the story of challenges -- some not always obvious -- facing Kriesel, there are reminders of fellow soldiers lost and of tensions at home in Cottage Grove. In a chapter titled "Bliss Turns to Tension," Kriesel's wife, Katie, talks about how her husband "didn't know who he was anymore.
"When something like this happens, you're different. You are never going to be who you used to be."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419
•7:30 p.m. Nov. 3, Common Good Books, 165 N. Western Av., St. Paul
• 7 p.m. Nov. 8, Barnes & Noble, HarMar Mall, Roseville
• 2 p.m. Dec. 4, Borders, Minnetonka
• 6:30 p.m. Dec. 10, Valley Books, Stillwater
• 2 p.m. Dec. 11, Borders, Woodbury
• noon, Dec. 16, Barnes & Noble, Nicollet Mall, Mpls.
• 6 p.m. Dec. 18, Barnes & Noble, Maplewood.