StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Staff Sgt. Jon Meadows' first deployment to Iraq, one of his friends, Staff Sgt. William Beardsley, said he wanted to go on a mission in Jon's place.
Jon agreed — and Beardsley died on that mission.
"That was the hardest moment of my life," Jon tells his wife, Melissa, on a visit to StoryCorps in Washington, D.C. "I was ashamed, because I was glad it wasn't me. Then I had the guilt ... If I went on the mission, it wouldn't have been him. I had a picture of him, and I had it everywhere I went. And now I put him on my bookshelf. There's my buddy who got killed. I can never get over that."
Jon was injured multiple times during his service. During his most recent deployment, in Afghanistan, the vehicle he was riding in drove right over an IED.
"My driver floored it," Jon tells Melissa. "And my body slammed so hard up against the top of the vehicle it felt like I had a knife stuck in, like, the middle of my brain."
When he came home, they learned he'd suffered a traumatic brain injury. "You couldn't have a conversation," Melissa tells Jon. "You couldn't follow one-step instructions. You were almost catatonic at times."
Jon asks if Melissa would ever want to give up on him. "No," Melissa tells him. "Absolutely not. Your mission is to get better."
"And that's what I'm trying to do," Jon says. "And it's so hard to say, 'I need help.' "
"I can't soldier it up anymore," he says. "I have to be somebody that wants to be healed. And now we're working with my PTSD, which is a different thing. The only way to treat that is I have to talk about it, too."
Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Katie Simon.