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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time to check in with StoryCorps and the Military Voices Initiative, honoring those who have served in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.

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SIMON: This story starts in 2005. That October, 21-year-old Army Sgt. Erik Schei was shot in the head during his second tour in Iraq. The bullet shattered the top half of his skull; and his parents, Christine and Gordon, have been his primary caregivers for the past eight years. At StoryCorps, they remembered finding out about their son's injury.

CHRISTINE SCHEI: I remember hearing the phone ring really, really early in the morning. It must have been 4, 4:30. And I saw you white as a sheet, shaking - all over your body - and I just said, is it about Erik? And you said, yes. And I said, is he dead? And you said, no. And I said, is he OK? And you shook your head.

GORDON SCHEI: It was a sniper that hit him. And it entered above his right ear and exited above his left.

CHRISTINE SCHEI: Do you remember seeing him for the first time in the hospital?

GORDON SCHEI: Yeah. The first time I saw him, he just looked at peace.

CHRISTINE SCHEI: I remember the machines beeping; all these tubes coming out of his nose, his mouth, his brain.

GORDON SCHEI: They told us he'd be a vegetable his whole life - wouldn't be able to eat, wouldn't be able to speak. And prior to him going to Iraq, I had had a conversation with Erik. He had asked me if anything ever happened to him, to pull the plug.

CHRISTINE SCHEI: I understood what you had promised, but I just could not be the one to end his life. So I pulled the doctor aside and I said, can you show me a piece of paper saying that he's gone, that there's no activity on his brain? And he looked at me, and he was really quiet. I said, you know what? There's no more talking about unplugging. And at that point, we decided to take him home. I was scared out of my mind. I was scared to death of giving the wrong meds. So I must have measured over and over the first week, so I wouldn't kill him. But now he's...

GORDON SCHEI: Smiling and laughing every day.

CHRISTINE SCHEI: Well, once in a while, he has a bad day, when he's getting extremely frustrated. But it's rare. And I think he doesn't want to show that side of him. He knows how hard it is to feed him, cut his fingernails, shave him. And he must say 10 times, I'm so sorry, Mom. I'm so sorry - because he knows that I have to change his diaper. And I know that's hard on him.

GORDON SCHEI: One of the biggest fears I've got: As I get older and you get older, are we going to be able to handle taking care of him? But I once asked him, did we make the right decision? And he said, I'm alive - and I'm glad I'm alive.

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SIMON: Gordon Schei and his wife, Christine, talking about caring for their son, Sgt. Erik Schei, who was shot in Iraq in 2005. This interview was recorded in Rio Rancho, N.M., as part of the Military Voices Initiative. And like all StoryCorps recordings, it is archived at the U.S. Library of Congress. To download the StoryCorps podcast, you can go to npr.org.

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