Sgt. Evan Cole, a recent graduate from Catholic University's School of Architecture and Planning, enlisted in the Army in 2001 when he was just 17 years old. He and his best friend visited a recruiter after the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked on Sept. 11.
During his second deployment to Iraq in 2007, Cole was seriously injured as the Humvee he was riding in drove over a roadside bomb.
Initial radio reports listed him as killed in action. Every bone in his right leg was broken, his knee was shattered, and his pelvis ripped open. He had shrapnel in his left leg and liver. His right arm and left hand were broken, and most of his teeth were shattered. And he had a traumatic brain injury.
After two years and countless surgeries, Cole — like the 17 year old who enlisted in 2001 — still wanted to do something worthwhile. In his application essay to Catholic University, he wrote:
I don't regret my decision to join the Army. I'm proud of my service and I know I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for the friends who were with me in Iraq, and even more than that, if God had not been with me. I made a promise to God and my friends that I would succeed and make something of myself. I can never get my friends back, but I can honor their memory and sacrifice by doing something worthwhile and meaningful with my life.
When Cole began his undergraduate studies at Catholic University in 2010, he walked with a cane and worked closely with his professors because of short-term memory loss. On Saturday, May 14, Cole walked across the stage — unaided — as he graduated with a master’s degree in architecture. His final thesis project was a design for a rehabilitation center for veterans.
In 2007, NBC’s chief health correspondent Robert Bazell met an injured Cole as he was lying on a stretcher and being loaded onto a plane to be flown out of Iraq. Bazell, who followed Cole’s story, came out of retirement this month to talk to him for an NBC Nightly News segment about his recovery and recent graduation.
The story aired on NBC Nightly News on Monday, May 30.