As his doctors and fellow soldiers stood beside his hospital bed in Afghanistan, they were simply thankful that the seriously wounded 24-year-old Josh Hargis had survived an encounter with a suicide bomber. But when they saw what he began to do despite his terrible injuries, even the hardened military men were moved to tears.
Hargis himself was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, he and graduated from Gilbert A. Dater High School in 2008. Afterward, Hargis immediately enrolled in military training, seeking to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger, which would see him be part of an elite infantry division.
And Hargis soon joined other Rangers at Fort Benning, a massive military base near Columbus, Georgia. It’s home to more than 120,000 soldiers, their families and civilian workers, and the Fort is renowned for having trained some of America’s greatest military leaders, including Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 2013 Hargis’ second combat deployment saw him travel to southern Afghanistan alongside his 3rd Ranger Battalion comrades. There, they were assigned to the Panjwai District in Kandahar Province, which was then regarded as something of a Taliban stronghold.
It was here, on October 6, 2013, that Corporal Hargis and his company were performing a home search for an enemy combatant. Unknown to them, a woman who had exited the building was wearing a suicide vest.
After the suicide bomber detonated the device, however, it quickly became apparent that the ordeal was not over. The confusion caused by the blast led some soldiers to step on and activate even more explosive booby traps.
The resulting explosions killed four soldiers and injured 14. Although Hargis survived, he lost both of his legs, and he clung on to life in a critical condition for two hours as his fellow soldiers raced to get him back to the hospital at their base.
Thankfully, the doctors were able to save Hargis after a series of emergency surgeries, and he was moved to the intensive-care unit. Prior to flying him back home, though, his commanders saw fit to award him the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat.
An officer announced the award in Hargis’ hospital room with more than 50 people present, and he placed the medal on his bed. As his commander described in a letter to Hargis’ wife Taylor, it was at this point that the wounded and sedated soldier, who everyone assumed had been unconscious, shocked everyone.
“Josh fought the doctor who was trying to restrain his right arm and rendered the most beautiful salute any person in that room had ever seen,” wrote the commander. The moment left everyone floored. As the letter recounted, “I cannot impart on you the level of emotion that poured through the intensive care unit that day. Grown men began to weep and we were speechless at a gesture that speaks volumes about Josh’s courage and character.”
Hargis’ commander described it as “the single greatest event I have witnessed in my ten years in the Army.” The framed picture of the salute now hangs above his desk as a reminder of the kind of valor and courage that Hargis’ commander values.
Enclosed with the letter, the commander included the photo of Hargis’ salute, which he thought should be shared with the public. His wife Taylor said the letter and picture reminded her “what kind of man I have the privilege of being married to.”
In the iconic photo, Hargis is barely recognizable as he lies in a hospital bed with a neck brace, medical tubes and a bruised face. But despite being in pain and barely awake, his bandaged arm can be seen giving a clear military salute.
Filled with pride about the bravery and strength of her husband, Taylor decided to share the photograph on Facebook. The so-called “salute seen around the world” quickly became a viral sensation and was picked up by all the major news networks.
Hargis’ salute moved almost everyone who came across the picture, but it had even more meaning for his father. “I’m overwhelmed that that’s my boy… He’s an awesome kid. He’s an awesome man,” he told local reporters.
Shortly after his story went public, Hargis arrived in the United States to continue his recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Since he was not yet fit enough to make a public statement, he instead thanked his supporters via Facebook.
After months of exhausting physical therapy, though, Hargis was once again able to walk with the help of two prosthetic legs. And, despite having to deal with the disability for the rest of his life, he remains an active member of society.
In fact, Patrick Griffith, his brother-in-law, organized a “Warrior’s Walk” in February 2014 to help pay for the costs of his recovery and show support for Hargis. The event saw dozens of locals participate in a 17-day trek from Fort Stewart — the military base where Griffith works — to Fort Benning.
Hargis joined the walk for ten miles on a specially designed hand-cycle, and later walked the last half-mile of the 222-mile trek with his wife. Motivated by other soldiers and their families, Hargis completed the walk to cheering crowds.
Josh and Taylor Hargis welcomed their first child in May of 2014, and, if this photo is any indication, they are currently enjoying family life. Indeed, it seems that there’s no end to this soldier’s inspiring determination.