Matthew Palacios: Picking Up the Little Pieces

Cpl. Matthew Palacios, the wounded Marine who saved his comrades by hurling away a live grenade, is still pulling out the pieces of shrapnel. Usually an eighth of an inch in diameter, the grenade fragments are easier to leave in his body than remove. But over time, the shards eject themselves, pushing their way up through his skin. Palacios can feel them surfacing, usually on his right side, where he took the brunt of the blast. One was working its way out of his calf as he spoke to NEWSWEEK, more than a year after the battle. "I can kind of squeeze it out," he says.

From Jadick's aid station in Fallujah, Palacios, 20, was sent to an Army hospital in Baghdad, Balad Air Base in northern Iraq, Ramstein Air Base in Germany and then to Camp Lejeune, N.C. Finally, after about two weeks, he was sent home to Lorraine, Ohio, outside Cleveland. But he couldn't get Fallujah out of his mind. Driving at home in Ohio, he found himself scanning the roadside, looking for wires on the ground or freshly dug earth. He was looking for roadside bombs. Sometimes, he would drive down the middle of the road, straddling the center dividing line, just as he did in Fallujah to avoid IEDs.

Palacios's arm, wounded by an insurgent's bullet, has recovered. He can do pull-ups again, but if he lies for too long on his right hip his whole side will fall asleep, tingling and stinging. He feels lucky to have made it home, but maybe a little too lucky. "I feel guilty," he says. He would have preferred to stay in Iraq and gone immediately into battle after recovering. Instead, he is eagerly awaiting his next tour of duty, possibly back in Iraq.