Dave and Jan Pardue wanted to believe their son when he told them they shouldn't worry. Speaking by phone last week from a hospital bed in Germany, U.S. Army Spc. Seth Pardue had assured his parents that the burns on his face and hands were not as bad as they looked.
Until the Pardues saw Seth in person, though, they wouldn't know for sure whether the 22-year-old was downplaying the injuries he had sustained in Afghanistan. While he patroled in Khost province, near the Pakistan border, an improvised explosive device detonated under the armored truck he was traveling in with at least five other members of the 501st Airborne Infantry Regiment. One soldier was killed; Seth and four others were wounded.
On Easter Sunday, the Pardues and Seth's fiancee, Megan Rosas, flew to Texas, where he is recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston.
They walked into the hospital room fearing the worst. Then tears of joy started to flow.
"We found Seth in a lot better condition than we'd hoped for," Dave Pardue, longtime pastor at Christian Church in the Wildwood near Weeki Wachee, told the Times by phone Tuesday. "God's been good to us."
Seth was standing in the truck's gun turret when the explosive went off under the 36-ton truck, detonating the gas tank. He was attached to a harness and had to remove his gloves to free himself, he told his family.
His face does look horrible, but the burns don't appear severe enough to result in much, if any, permanent scarring, his father said. The third-degree burns on his hands will require skin grafts and are more likely to leave scars, but shouldn't permanently affect his dexterity. His dislocated shoulder also might need surgery, and his legs were battered by the explosion, but not broken.
Seth was wearing fire retardant clothing at the time.
"I can't imagine what he would be like without that," Dave Pardue said.
The family's sense of relief and gratitude is compounded by the reality of what happened to some of the other men in the truck.
Spc. Jeffrey L. White Jr., 21, of Catawissa, Mo., was killed, according to the Department of Defense. Three other men were flown to Brooke, including Seth's sergeant, who suffered severe burns over much of his body and is now in a bed near Seth's.
The men are not saying much to their families or to each other about the incident or the toll it took on the team.
"There's that feeling of responsibility," said Dave Pardue, who served as member of the Special Forces during the Vietnam War.
Still, there are blessings to be thankful for beyond Seth's fair condition. One of the injured men was able to stay abroad and is already back with the unit. One of the four flown to Brooke has been released.
Three months into his first tour of duty, Seth will likely be in Texas for several weeks and is frustrated by the fact that he will probably miss the rest of his unit's yearlong deployment.
"If there's a part of his team there, he wants to be there," Dave Pardue said.
U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill, called the family to wish them well.
"Our prayers are with them," said Nugent, who has three sons in the Army, two of them with multiple tours under their belts. "We just want to let them know they're not alone in this."
Pardue said his son wasn't up to talking to a Times reporter. Seth doesn't think he's worthy of the attention, his father said, when men like White have given their lives. There are also soldiers and Marines recovering at Brooke who are learning how to live without limbs.
Seth will have to prepare for some additional recognition, though. Military officials have told the family that he and his wounded comrades will receive the Purple Heart.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]