Beauty Is Who You Are

I had never heard of Aaron Mankin when they handed him the microphone. He only spoke for a few minutes, but I was inspired to learn more. I found out he was a wounded Marine, his opinion on beauty, and the amazing story behind it.

Aaron Mankin

Cpl. Aaron Mankin addressing IAVA marchers before the NYC Veterans Day Parade 11.11.13

What I heard him say

I was standing with IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) marchers this past Veterans Day in NYC as they waited to join the parade on 5th Avenue. Aaron Mankin was introduced as a leading voice of this generation of veterans. Since November 11th is about expressing gratitude, he spoke of that.

He said that when people would come up and thank him, he always felt awkward and uncomfortable. “What do I say? Hey…you’re welcome!” The semi-cheesy way he delivered the line “you’re welcome” made everyone laugh. He said that after a while he realized what his response should be. “What do I say now? Thank you for your support. Because all this…right here with each other, in our hometowns…all across the country, if we have this, we have all we need.”

As I stood in the cold, I found the warmth of his words uplifting and comforting. I loved his sense of humor. And I feel strongly that supporting each other, even with the smallest kindness, has tremendous power. So I was looking forward to finding out who he is and why he was a “leading voice.”

Marine Corporal Aaron P. Mankin

“On May 11th, 2005, Cpl. Mankin was wounded when the 26-ton amphibious assault vehicle he was traveling in rolled over an improvised explosive device and was propelled 10 feet in the air.

Four Marines died in the attack and 11 others were injured. In addition to the damage sustained to his throat and lungs from smoke inhalation, Cpl. Mankin suffered intense burns on over 25 percent of his body. His ears, nose and mouth were essentially gone and he lost two fingers on his right hand.”

This is the information about Cpl. Mankin at Operation Mend. He was their first patient two years after the attack. Operation Mend is a program at UCLA Medical Center where top plastic surgeons and reconstructive surgeons donate the their time and talents to vets with severe facial injuries and other medical issues.

After almost nine years, he’s had over 60 surgeries. When I found images of when he first got hurt, I was absolutely shocked. I did not recognize the man I saw speaking that day. I have to admit that looking at them made my eyes fill with tears. I’m not sure what surgery # the photos below are, but even the “before” photos are incredible progress. I am so grateful for Operation Mend and the work they do.

Part of the journey for Cpl. Mankin. (photo credit: UCLA Health and UCLA Operation Mend)

Part of the journey. for Cpl. Mankin. (photo credit: UCLA Health and UCLA Operation Mend)

Through it all Cpl. Mankin has continued to serve by helping other injured veterans to heal, to be a voice for them, and to inspire everyone around him to find their own ways to serve. He also helps spread the word about Operation Mend.

If you know of a veteran that could be helped by Operation Mend, please tell them about this organization. If you live in the LA area, you have the opportunity to be a Buddy Family. This program helps patients and their families spend some time beyond the hospital and hotel walls by joining host families for a home-cooked meal or an activity. If you wish to make a donation, you can do so at their site as well.

A beautiful truth

Cpl. Mankin actively avoided the mirror in this hospital room. When he finally did look, he didn’t recognize the man staring back and he says plainly, “I cried for a long time.” But then he made a choice. He said he didn’t want a stranger who dug a hole and planted a bomb to dictate who he was. He was still the same man inside. And that man chose to continue giving and serving with courage, kindness, and humor. He doesn’t avoid the mirror now. Because, “beauty is who you are, not how you look.”

© Gina left the mall, 2013

17 thoughts on “Beauty Is Who You Are

  1. Thanks Gina for introducing us to this exception man, it really is amazing what the surgeons have been able to do for him, can you imagine the pain he must endure each time he has to undergo a procedure and then there are all those people that have frivolous
    plastic surgery for their vanity. I can understand why they chose him to speak and I hope he is able to spread the word about Operation Mend to more people and that they will open their hearts and wallets to help others.

    • Paula,
      I can’t imagine the pain, both physical and emotional, that he has gone through. That makes the grace he handles it with even more incredible. In one interview I saw he joked that his kids are growing up with a very skewed view of what doctors do…because he always comes home looking worse (at first.) And yes, what Operation Mend has done for him is simply amazing. I am happy that this organization and our wounded vets have a voice like Cpl Mankin.

  2. I wish I could have been there to hear Mr. Mankin. What a moving speech that must have been. The pictures were heartbreaking! I (and many others) are so thankful we have you to keep us informed. Please know how much we all appreciate all that you do for our military and how much you do for us . I have learned so much reading you wonderful blog.
    Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!

    • Nana,
      I would love for everyone to hear him speak! Yes, it does hurt to see what he’s been through. I looked at many of his photos and through my tears, I couldn’t help but notice that he was still out there, helping others. Amazing.

      In another one of his speeches Cpl. Mankin says that we should all serve in some way. Maybe sharing these stories is one of the ways I can serve. Thank you for reading and thank you always for your kind words.

  3. A wonderful tribute to a beautiful soul in uniform. God bless him and all who serve.

    As we remember not only our own veterans but the history of all, we pay tribute to the monumental contribution provided by their commitment and sacrifice on our behalf. Their sense of duty continues to safeguard our present and sustain our future.

    • Beautifully stated, thank you! And I’m grateful that the doctors at Operation Mend decided to remember and honor our vets with their own form of service. Cpl. Mankin gave (and to continues to give) his best, he deserves ours in return. They all do.

  4. God love him for being brave even after the battle. I too often feel his type of determination was lost on the new generation – I’m happy he proves me wrong.

    • “Brave even after the battle” is a very accurate description. While every generation does indeed have it’s own overall character (from Greatest to Lost and beyond) I think there will always be incredibly beautifully determined young men and women among them.

  5. Gina, this beautiful soul is my youngest son. The over nine years of his recovery so far, has not been easy, far from it. But he stands, and some how makes everyone he touches feel at ease with what he has gone through. His journey of surgeries is not over yet, still 4-6 to be done, pushing that number into the seventies. People look at pictures and see part of his story. But there is so much more to this man, my son. So to better educate what Aaron went through, which is a common story among our wounded warriors and their families, I wrote a book. “A Mother’s Side of War” shows the personal, and unveiled, story of what Aaron, and I, went through, and continue to deal with. I included approximately 150 photographs to bring our story to life, there is no denying what has been when you look at the pictures.
    Thank you for your heartfelt words about my son. I hope the world will one day hear him speak, and know by what they see and hear, just what we as a country have asked of this generation of warriors.

    • Diana,

      I’m happy and honored that you found your way here. I only know a small part of Aaron’s story and I was so very moved. I’m happy to be one of many people who help spread his story. But, as you say, there is so much more to understand about what your family and the families of all our wounded warriors face. So I just ordered your book. I’m sure some parts will be difficult to read. But it is very important that the truth—whether painful, inspiring, or both, is known. As a fellow mom, I can’t even imagine what you’ve been through. It is incredibly generous that you have made the effort to help the rest of us better understand what it means to serve.

      What do we ask this generation of warriors? What haven’t we asked?

      Gina

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