National Purple Heart Day: Minnesota veteran finds meaning in survival

August 7 is recognized as National Purple Heart Day, and almost 13 years after receiving a Purple Heart, one Minnesota veteran is finding new meaning in his survival. 

“There’s guilt; why did we survive and they didn’t,” former Army National Guard Staff Sargent John Kriesel said. 

In 2006, when Kriesel was serving a tour in Iraq, his Humvee hit an improvised explosive device. Two of his friends and fellow soldiers were killed. He and another soldier survived, but were seriously injured.

“I thought I was going to die that day. I will never forget laying there thinking that was the end,” Kriesel said.

Eight days after the explosion, he woke up in the hospital. Both of his legs had been amputated.

“I didn’t know how difficult it was going to be but I got a second chance at life that a lot of other people don’t," he said.

A few weeks into his recovery, he was visited by President George W. Bush. He was being honored with a Purple Heart.

“It was around Christmas time, a little bit before Christmas, and [he] pinned on my Purple Heart. That was one of the most amazing days of my life,” Kriesel said.

As he started to heal, an invisible wound was weighing on him. He said he was trying to come to terms with understanding why he survived the explosion that killed two of his close friends and fellow soldiers.

“I got a second chance at life that a lot of other people don’t get, and it changed my perspective and it made me appreciate every day,” Kriesel said.

Nearly 13 years after the explosion, Kriesel is once again getting a new perspective on life. On July 20 he became a father. His wife Kayla gave birth to a little girl named Chloe.

“I feel like having married Kayla last year and then when I got to see my baby girl born a few weeks ago, I feel that I’ve found my answer as to why I’m here. Every day is a gift,” Kriesel said.

He said bringing new life into the world is helping him understand why he lived and has given meaning to his second chance at life.

“I can’t believe I get to live this life. It’s scary that it almost wasn’t, but I just need to embrace it while I’m here,” Kriesel said.