Iraq Veteran's Father Becomes Hospital Fixture Joshua Sparling lost a leg after he was injured by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2005. After Joshua's injury, his father, Michael Sparling, started offering support to soldiers and their families at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
NPR logo

Iraq Veteran's Father Becomes Hospital Fixture

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Iraq Veteran's Father Becomes Hospital Fixture

Iraq Veteran's Father Becomes Hospital Fixture

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Anthony Brooks.

When a wounded soldier is sent home from war, maybe missing a limb, maybe with a psychological trauma, that soldier's family often takes on a heavy burden.

BRAND: Consider the case of Michael Sparling. We've read about him this week in the Washington Post. Michael Sparling is a divorced Vietnam veteran from Port Huron, Michigan. One of his seven kids, Joshua, is an Army Ranger. Joshua Sparling was on patrol in Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded. He lost his leg.

BROOKS: His father, Michael Sparling, quit his job in Michigan so that he could help care for his son at Walter Reed hospital in Washington, D.C. That was two years ago. Today, Michael Sparling still spends most of his time at Walter Reed. He says Joshua is doing well but still recovering.

Mr. MICHAEL SPARLING: Yesterday, we set up the surgery for his leg, and they're going to do that on August 20th. He's got a coagulation of nerves that went to the bottom of the stump and they're going in there to remove the nerves out and trim a little bone back to where his prostheses works a little bit better without pain where it currently is.

BROOKS: Right. He's had to have a bunch of surgeries, correct?

Mr. SPARLING: Josh has had close to 40 surgeries now.

BROOKS: Now, do you mind telling me the story of how he lost his leg? What happened?

Mr. SPARLING: About 300 men from the 82nd Airborne were called over to help with Operation Desert Shield. After that was completed, they went on to where they were doing foot patrols in Ramadi. He had one more foot patrol to do, and basically it was an IED that was off the road. He blew about 30 to 50 foot in the air, landed on his back. He called me from a satellite phone immediately and said he screwed up, that he wasn't coming home, and then a medic picked up the phone about a minute later - they actually had a medic there.

BROOKS: So, wait a minute, he actually managed to call you before the medic even got to him?

Mr. SPARLING: Absolutely. And the medic picked up the phone and said, because what his squad later did he wouldn't come home a whole man but he would come home. They called me from Baghdad, they'd called from Landstuhl.

BROOKS: That's in Germany.

Mr. SPARLING: Right. In Landstuhl, Germany. Told me that Josh was going to arrive at Walter Reed on November the 23rd, it was three days after he was hit. I left home, met Josh, went to Walter Reed on the 23rd. And the surgeons wanted to amputate his leg immediately, and Colonel Tis(ph) and Captain Mack(ph) stepped forward and said, if he was willing to put up with the surgeries and the pain that they would try to save the leg. And in November of '06, a year after he was injured, the leg had died and so they had to amputate the leg at that point in time.

BROOKS: Now, Mr. Sparling, you decided to leave your job to help care for your son. I'd like you to tell me about that. What were you doing before you came to Walter Reed to be with Joshua?

Mr. SPARLING: I was a recruiter for the insurance industry. We licensed insurance agents to sell for a certain companies. And it was no brainier. Josh needed the care. Josh needed my support.

BROOKS: So what do you do for him? I mean, what are doing when you're there?

Mr. SPARLING: Oh, I get him to his appointments. I help him with his wheelchair. I help him clean his prosthetics. I make sure he has, you know, his food, and his meals, and this type of thing, and whatever Josh needs.

BROOKS: How are you set financially, if I may ask? I mean, you've given up your job to take care of your son. I think everyone could understand why you'd want to be with your son, but this must be hard financially on the family.

Mr. SPARLING: It's hard financially, but I've always had the motto that my family came first, and God came second, and country came third. And yeah, we've exhausted more of our savings. Would I go back and change anything that's happened in the last almost two years? Absolutely not. Okay. I stand behind the military. I stand behind the young men and women that put themselves in danger to protect us.

BROOKS: Mr. Sparling, as you know, polls show that this war is increasingly unpopular with a lot of Americans, with a majority of Americans. Now, I'm wondering how that affects your view of your son's sacrifice, of his situation right now.

Mr. SPARLING: It has not affected Joshua or I at all. We still support the war on terror if for no other reason because we've got men and women that are in harm's way. And I will not let the news media or the Congress people or politicians turn this into another Vietnam, and that's exactly what they're trying to do. I served during the Vietnam era: There's nothing worse than to be overseas in a combat position and having the American people turn their back on you.

BROOKS: How does an American who cares about people like your son but maybe have concern for him that he was put in harm's way, maybe even - they might go so far as to say he was put in harm's way for the wrong reasons. But they're still saying that out of a concern for, you know, young, good, patriotic people like your son. How can people express that without offending you?

Mr. SPARLING: Show them that you care. Give moneys to charities that help soldiers. The thing is, you don't have to love President Bush or Dick Cheney to love and support the soldier. We need to show the soldiers that we do love the soldier and that we do appreciate what they did, regardless if it differs with their belief or not.

BROOKS: Mr. Sparling, let me ask you this, I understand you're doing other stuff at Walter Reed besides helping Joshua, you're helping other people as well. What are you doing during the day there?

Mr. SPARLING: Well, during the day, I normally assist Joshua and a couple of other amputees with their daily routine. In the evening, I'm normally sitting down in the Malogne House lobby assisting families. I don't care if it's giving them encouragement, if it's telling them how they can apply for Social Security for their son, or how they can get some medical benefits, or if it's running to the airport, or running to get some groceries or whatever the case may be, I just made myself available to take care of that. I know when I got at Walter Reed there was nobody to assist my family. And Josh and I made a clear decision a year ago that my free time and his free time would be devoted to helping other soldiers and other families to get integrated and to let them know that there are people that care.

BROOKS: Thanks very much, Michael Sparling. I appreciate it.

Mr. SPARLING: You're welcome.

BROOKS: That's Michael Sparling from Port Huron, Michigan. His son, Joshua, is recovering at Walter Reed hospital in Washington.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.