"I'm just glad I stepped on that IED…"

If this story doesn’t make you grateful to be alive — and awed by the selflessness and generosity of those who serve this country — nothing will.

From the Billings (Montana) Gazette (with a h/t to The Anchoress):

U.S. Army Sgt. J.D. Williams never really wanted a Purple Heart. Nobody does, he said.

The 23-year-old Harrison High School graduate is missing his right arm and both legs, amputated after he stepped on an improvised explosive device in October in Afghanistan.

Williams received the decoration Nov. 6 from his hospital bed at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. About 12 friends and family attended the ceremony, held the same days as his daughter’s first birthday. The Purple Heart is awarded to any military personnel wounded or killed in an action against the enemy.

His wounds now closed and skin grafts removed, Williams told The Montana Standard in a telephone interview that it felt good to be honored, but that he hopes not to see any of his fellow soldiers have to endure the same pain.

“I’m just glad I stepped on that IED,” Williams said. “Otherwise, it would have been one of my buddies.”

An infantryman with HHC 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry, Williams, who grew up in Anaconda, spent more than five months fighting the Taliban and pushing toward an end to the war.

Braving mortars and what he counted are 55 firefights, Williams patrolled on clearance operations near the Kandahar Province. From village to village, his company sought the best loopholes for their snipers to keep Taliban fighters from setting new explosives.

On Oct. 9, at 8:30 a.m., Williams took one wrong step. The blast sent him 20 feet in the air, he said, and left a 6-foot crater in the ground.

“It was just a weird experience,” Williams said. “I looked down at my legs, and I thought I was split in half. That’s when I seriously thought I was done for.”

Williams’ mother, Danielle Scholler, of Ennis, sees the Purple Heart pinned to her son’s chest and is just thankful he survived.

“The phone call could have been so much worse,” Scholler said.

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