Lauren Eiler believes the sniper's bullet that slammed into her son's spine as he worked to destroy captured insurgent weapons would have killed him instantly but for his desire to say goodbye to family before he died.
"He knew how hard it would be for us if we couldn't say goodbye," Eiler said of her son, Michael Downey. "I am so grateful."
Downey, 21, of Phoenix, died Nov. 19, eight days after he was wounded in Iraq. He was stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Eiler said Downey knew immediately after he was shot that he would be paralyzed because he couldn't feel his legs.
"Unless there was a lot of healing on the miraculous level, he would have been paralyzed from the waist down," Eiler said. "He was asking his guys: 'Are my legs there? Are my legs there?'"
Eiler learned of her son's injuries on Nov. 12 and flew to Bethesda, Md., where he was being treated, the next day. His father, William J. Downey, also flew to Bethesda, she said.
"My son was the bravest, strongest person I've ever known," Eiler said.
Published in The Arizona Republic on Jan. 28, 2005.