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Moorpark dad, son get brain injuries in Iraq

February 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The U.S. is drawing down its forces in Iraq. But for many of those who served, the scars of battle will last a lifetime. A Moorpark father and son, both Marines, both suffered traumatic brain injuries in Iraq from roadside IEDs.

Marine Sergeant Major David B. Franco served two deployments in Iraq. Staff Sergeant David W. Franco, sometimes called "Junior," also served two deployments in Iraq.

Father and son are recovering from nearly identical injuries often called the "silent wounds." They're in physical pain every day. Both have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

"It's the insides, it's your brain, it's your neck, your back, your legs, your shoulders, everything," said Franco Sr. "My heart's messed up, my liver's messed up. It's all from the explosion."

Franco was in a vehicle when it hit an improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq in 2005. He says he had a premonition and told everyone to call home.

"I just started praying, I said 'You know what, God, I don't know what you got in store for me today, I know it's not going to be a good one, let it be quick,'" said Franco Sr. "I saw the package and I started to yell 'Swerve, swerve!' But you're going 45, 50 miles an hour, those things. They're pretty heavy. The driver, he couldn't turn it fast enough and we hit it. It blew up right in front of us."

His foot was on fire. There were serious injuries to Marines, but everyone survived.

Three years later in Iraq, Franco's son, Junior, was in a tank. In separate incidents, Junior had suffered two traumatic head injuries. Then came the day his tank hit a powerful IED and he was knocked unconscious.

Since then he's had constant pain and headaches. His memory is damaged.

"If it's something like, 'Hey, don't forget about tonight, we're going to go out,' just something like that, it's gone," said Franco Jr. "There's a lot of things that I'll forget. Some things, I'll just be like, 'I know, I know, I know.' It's like 'Oh my God.' It frustrates me."

Now, like his father, he takes precautions, takes a lot of notes and uses an electronic notepad.

Both son and father remember the same experience. They were wearing 50 or 60 pounds of ammunition and vests, and the explosions puffed it all out like a T-shirt.

Their Moorpark home is a memorial and celebration of the Marine Corps. The father is now retired. Junior is in the reserves. His medals fill a shadow box.

"God puts guys like us, guys like all those guys in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, the Coast Guard, God put those guys on Earth to protect this country. And that's what it's all about," said Franco Sr.