Cpl. Josh Hargis lay in a military bed, seemingly unconscious but clearly alive according to the machines that monitored his every pulse of life after he was seriously wounded by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. His commander approached the bed to pin the Purple Heart on him, and then the Army Ranger executed what military protocol demanded:
Hargis' simple but oh so intense action has become the "Salute Seen Around the World," drawing numerous views on Facebook after the photo was posted by the corporal's wife, Taylor. It was also picked up by the Guardian of Valor website, which exposes false military bravery and praises the real stuff.
The photograph shows the Purple Heart lying on Hargis' blanketed chest and the corporal, encumbered by life-saving tubes, moving his right hand to his forehead.
"His is strong and an epitome of what a man and what an American soldier is," Taylor Hargis said in a television interview in which she described herself as the "proud wife of an Army Ranger."
"I'm overwhelmed that this is my boy, that he could come from me," his father, Jim Hargis, told FOX 19 in Cincinnati, the Hargis family hometown. "He is an awesome kid, an awesome man."
The elder Hargis believes that despite his son's condition, "he felt it" and knew to express his patriotism with the salute.
Pentagon officials were unavailable to comment Wednesday because of the partial government shutdown.
According to Taylor Hargis' Facebook posts and family interviews, her husband was wounded Oct. 6 when an Afghan woman detonated an explosives-laden vest, killing four members of his 3rd Army Ranger Battalion and wounding other American soldiers. Hargis, who lost both his legs, and his teammates were searching a building when the explosion occurred.
Taylor Hargis wrote that Josh's commander sent her a letter describing the hospital scene in Afghanistan as Hargis was waiting to be sent to Germany and then on to the United States.
It was "a simple ceremony; you can picture a room full of Rangers, leaders, doctors and nurses surrounding his bedside while the Ranger regimental commander pinned the Purple Heart to his blanket," the letter says.
"During the presentation, the commander publishes the official orders verbally and leaned over Josh to thank him for his sacrifice.
"Josh, whom everybody in the room (over 50 people) assumed to be unconscious, began to move his right arm under the blanket in a diligent effort to salute the commander as is customary during these ceremonies. Despite his wounds, wrappings, tubes and pain, Josh fought the doctor who was trying to restrain his right arm and rendered the most beautiful salute any person in that room had ever seen."
The unidentified commander said that grown men wept.
"The picture, which we believe belongs on every news channel and every newspaper, is attached. I have it hanging above my desk now and will remember it as the single greatest event I have witnessed in my 10 years in the Army," the letter says.
Hargis is now being treated in San Antonio. He is 24, and graduated from Dater High School in 2007 and attended the University of Cincinnati.
He and his wife are expecting their first child.
"Who knows what is next," Taylor Hargis said. "It is definitely a different plan than we had imagined. But we are happy we still get to have one."