It wasn’t the steadiest of ascents, but it was a tremendously inspiring moment. With a cane in each hand steadying his balance, Lt. Dan Berschinski rose from his wheelchair and walked to the podium using his prosthetic legs. Thunderous applause erupted from the crowd at his “welcome home” ceremony Saturday in Peachtree City.
Gravely wounded by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, Berschinski easily could have rolled his way to the microphone and no one would have minded.
But to witnesses of his partly-wobbly ascent and determined gaze, it was clear the McIntosh High School graduate wouldn’t settle for anything less.
“Up until this moment, I thought getting shot at was the most nerve-wracking thing,” Berschinski joked after making it to the podium. “This is kind of intimidating.”
After thanking a multitude of people for their support through his ordeal, Berschinski turned the crowd’s attention to the men and women still toiling in the war fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Referencing his platoon in particular, Berschinski noted that a dozen or so of his soldiers re-enlisted in fall 2008 “despite the fact that our battalion was headed for an imminent deployment.”
“Despite the fact that several had already been wounded in previous tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the fact that many of those men had beautiful young wives and children that they were going to leave behind. And despite the fact that I, a brand new platoon leader with absolutely no combat experience, would be leading them in Afghanistan. These men had a chance to walk away before we left for combat, but I watched each and every one of them raise their hand and promise to continue to fight for this nation.”
Berschinski choked back tears while recalling his forward observer, PFC Jonathan Yanney, 20, who died in an IED explosion hours before the separate explosion that severely wounded Berschinski Aug. 18.
Yanney would communicate with helicopters to make gun runs close to the platoon and also with artillery units who shot at the enemy over the platoon’s heads.
Moments before, Berschinski’s platoon was moving into position to help another unit that had been ambushed, he noted. Then came the explosion that killed Yanney, which threw half of the platoon on the ground, Berschinski said.
That explosion took Yanney away forever, Berschinski said,
Berschinski said Memorial Day weekend is about people like Yanney and also Fayetteville’s Sgt. Shawn McCloskey and Tyrone’s Lt. Robert Collins, two local men who have died serving in the war on terror.
“This weekend is about everyone that’s ever been willing to put personal concern aside for the sake of our nation and our fellow brothers in arms,” Berschinski said. “I thank my family, friends and community for everything you’ve done for me and the others who are much more deserving than I.”
Berschinski said that strangers from all over the country including “church groups and entire elementary schools at a time” have written to him to show they care.
“That’s huge, it’s really been amazing,” Berschinski said.
Berschinski also thanked those who emailed, called and visited because “it meant a lot to me.”