It was shrapnel from the third improvised explosive device that forever changed the life of SPC Gustavo Zarate.
The 20 year old, stationed in Afghanistan in 2012, was picking up his laundry when the fire alarm sounded as the first IED fell from the sky.
Zarate grabbed a rifle and ran to a bunker as the second bomb exploded. The sharp metal from the third IED found a target: Zarate’s head and skull.
He suffered severe bleeding, internal jugular vein and thyroid artery wounds. Army base surgeons saved his life, but couldn’t heal the mental and physical pain he would have to endure.
Zarate was wounded while serving the 1st ranger infantry company during a combat mission.
On Sept. 13, Zarate, now 27, will be honored as the Star Recipient at the 2019 Patriots Honor Injured Veteran Golf Tournament held at the Trump National Golf Course in Rancho Palos Verdes.
The young hero will attend the event with his brother Hector Zarate to shake hands and inspire others to persevere.
Brent Hammond, president and co-founder of Patriots Honor was especially touched by Zarate’s unique experience upon returning home.
“Gustavo’s older brother Hector, 40, purchased a home in Moreno Valley and has the entire family living there,” Hammond said. “That way they give him 24/7 care. Mom and dad take care of Gustavo during the week, and Hector relieves mom and dad on the weekends. Everyone in the family helps.”
Hector’s story goes even further.
He is the only person who can interpret for his brother. Gustavo can no longer read or write, has seizures and is limited in getting around. Friends who were once abundant in his life no longer make an attempt to visit, he said.
“The biggest challenge is understanding Gustavo,” Hector said referring to their long journey ahead. “We got him a nice iPad, but it’s still hard to communicate with him. We are looking into sign language, but not having a voice is difficult.”
Excerpts taken from a graphic letter written by Hector to Patriots Honor paints a poignant picture of a hero whose young life was changed drastically in split seconds.
Hector wrote in part:
"... Today Gustavo’s dreams have vanished. He may not have all his friends, anymore, but he has God and us. Gustavo is a brave soldier and a brother who doesn’t give up, he will always be my hero and someone I respect, love and truly admire for what he is and what he did. I will always help him and be his voice.”
Hammond, who was so touched by Hector’s letter, said his organization is in the uncommon position of knowing what guys like Zarate need to rejoin the living. He hopes the golf tournament fundraiser will bring back a smile back to Gustavo’s face.
The young vet loves astronomy, the Angels baseball team and big time World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Even with limited mobility, he still goes fishing with his family, Hammond said.
To that end Patriots Honor wants to put Gustavo in a specially designed and equipped fishing boat.
The organization has a tour ready to go for the Zarate family to view the new James Webb telescope which is being built by Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach to replace the aging Hubble device.
Resolute Patriots Honor members are trying to get Gustavo out on the Angels ball park pitcher’s mound on Sept. 9 for Military Day at the park.
Additionally, Hammond and fellow Patriot’s Honor members are working on getting season tickets to the Angels games.
Patriots Honor’s goal is to assist injured veterans in transitioning into an active and independent civilian life.
Golf tournaments and sponsorships help provide funds used for unique programs, customized equipment, and specialized prosthetics with hope to improve the quality of life for wounded vets.
The nonprofit consists mostly of veterans and active duty military members dedicated to fulfill their motto, “Giving Back More to Those Who Gave.” One hundred percent of the proceeds, less operational costs, go to the veterans.
Last year, the Golf Tournament not only sold out, but they had to turn golfers away, so organizers are encouraging golfers to sign up early.
“These guys write a blank check for their lives when they go to war, Hammond said. “This is how we thought we could make a true impact on changing their lives—one person at at a time.”
Want to Golf?
Patriots Honor Injured Veteran Golf Tournament
Trump National Golf Course
1 Trump National Drive
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
Sept. 13, 10 a.m. check in.
Cost is $300 and includes course and cart fees, lunch box, gift package, drinks, banquet, awards, live auction, raffles and more.