A blinded soldier who became the symbol of bravery when he attended a comrade’s funeral just weeks after they were both blown-up by a Taliban IED has found LOVE.
Fusilier Tom James was just 20 when he suffered horrendous injuries and burns after a roadside bomb went off while he was on foot patrol in Helmand province in Afghanistan.
The soldier, who was in the 2nd battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, lost his right arm, right eye and several fingers in the blast which also broke his leg and pelvis.
Tom’s best friend, Fusilier Shaun Bush, 24, was killed as he tried to rescue platoon commander Sergeant Simon Valentine who also died in the attack on August 15, 2009.
Tom became the epitome of heroism when he left his hospital bed and was wheeled into Coventry Cathedral for the funeral of his pal just five weeks after the explosion.
Pictures of the Tom paying his respects at the service while covered in bandages and carrying medical equipment on his lap were beamed around the world.
After the service, which was attended by over a thousand mourners, Tom learned how to write, walk and dress himself all over again.
Almost exactly five years after the devastating attack, 25-year-old Tom is living life to the full and has got engaged, become a dad for the first time and got a job.
Tom, who lives in Coventry, with his fiancée Kellie Boyle, 29, and their one-year-old daughter Evie, is also a proficient golfer despite only having one arm.
He said: “I’m not a hero, you just do what you have to do.
“There are hundreds of people right now who are going through what I did. What I’d say to them, is never give up – perseverance is the key.
“I believe the greatest way to honour those killed in Afghanistan is to live the life you have, to the full.
“And that’s what I’ve done since I came back and what I will continue to do.
“At first it was very hard and everything was completely different.
“At that point, I was still in the army. When I got out, I thought ‘right, it’s time to knuckle down and get a job’.
“I applied for around 200 jobs – and they weren’t rocket science, just ordinary jobs. I got none of them.
“Because of my disabilities, civilian employers wouldn’t touch me.”
Tom then met Kellie at a nightclub in Coventry and was eventually offered a job at Ride Route 66.
The charity fundraisers for injured service personnel by encouraging people to ride the iconic American road by motorbike, sometimes with an injured soldier riding pillion.
Incredibly, despite losing an arm and an eye Tom is also a keen golfer after he was taught the sport by Kellie’s dad Jim.
He added: “I did the challenge last year, and it was amazing, that’s how I was offered the job.
“Working was just really important to me to show my daughter the right way to live. I could have just taken the dole or something, but I’m not that sort of person.
“Having a daughter is the best thing ever, and if I’d never been in the army and if I hadn’t stepped on the IED, I wouldn’t have met Kelly and I wouldn’t have had Evie, so I don’t regret it for a second.
“I’d never played golf before I got injured, but sport has always been a big part of my life.
“Golf is the only sport in which disabled and able-bodied people can have a competitive game together.
“I had to learn to play with just one arm, and I’m now on a handicap of 26 now, which isn’t too bad.”
After being blown up by the booby-trap bomb in Sangin, Afghanistan, Tom was taken to the military hospital at Camp Bastion for emergency surgery.
He was then flown to the Critical Care Unit in Birmingham before going on to Headley Court, the military’s medical rehabilitation centre in Surrey.
He added: “I don’t really remember it happening – it only took an instant.
“Although I was awake at the time, I had so much adrenaline rushing through me that the first thing I remember is my mates giving me morphine.
“I knew straight away that my arm was gone and I came to terms with it there and then
“My eye didn’t go until I got back to Birmingham. I had 12 hours in Camp Bastion first.
“When I was blown up, the lads were pulling me along by my legs, but they didn’t know that my leg was broken when they did it.”
Tom now enters into golf tournaments to raise money for SSAFA – the military charity that helped his family to spend time with him when he arrived home from Afghanistan.
Fiancee Kellie, 29, said: “To me, Tom is the most handsome, bravest person I’ve ever met.
“I am very proud of him for turning his life around and I am really looking forward to spending my life with him.”