Nearly 15 years after the explosion that mangled his body and left him hospitalized for almost two years, former Army Cpl. Chris Levi of Melville was awarded the Purple Heart last weekend for his bravery while serving in Iraq.
Levi, 39, lost both of his legs in the March 17, 2008, improvised explosive device blast and would require 130 surgeries, including 30 to save his life.
"Normally I don't really get attached to physical items or material stuff," Levi said in an interview Monday. "But getting the medal and having my name written on the back of it and holding it in my hand … definitely touched me more than I thought it would."
During a ceremony Saturday at the North Shore Historical Museum in Glen Cove, Rep. Tom Suozzi presented Levi with the Purple Heart, the oldest military award that is given to soldiers wounded or killed in service.
“Chris Levi is truly a remarkable human," Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said. "Initially offered the Purple Heart while still hospitalized in Iraq, he insisted on waiting until his entire platoon had returned home before accepting the award."
Levi, who previously served in the ROTC program, enlisted in the Army in 2003 after the United States invaded of Iraq.
In the spring of 2008, Levi's unit was attached to an Iraqi Army unit, patrolling an area south of Sadr City, a suburb of Baghdad, when a roadside bomb known as an explosively formed penetrator detonated. At the time, Levi was in the front seat of a Humvee speaking on the radio to the driver and gunner.
The copper plate inside the bomb was transformed into a molten copper slug, Levi said, tearing through the armor of the Humvee and taking off both of his legs and badly damaging his right arm.
Just 11 minutes after the explosion, Levi was being operated on by a surgeon in the field — the first of dozens to save his life and eventually provide him with a sense of normalcy.
"I had over 130 surgeries to close my legs and close my arm and then try to replace the bone in my arm with screws and bolts," he said.
Even as he was recovering, Levi would face an additional challenge.
The Department of Veterans Affairs lost his files, including his medical history and eight lengthy out-processing interviews that he would have to complete again over the next eight months.
Levi, who now works as an independent investment adviser, said he bears no grudge at the individual who set the bomb as al-Qaida was taking advantage of poverty-stricken individuals, offering cash rewards to kill Americans.
"I can empathize with the person that does that because that's not an enemy of America," Levi said. "That's not an enemy of the U.S. Army. Definitely not an enemy of anybody other than their current economic situation. So really getting to the root of the problem, which was al-Qaida taking advantage of the population, was much more of a concern than holding a grudge against the person who blew me up."