GRANDVIEW — Coban Shaw's life changed forever on April 29, 2006. That's the day the Army sent the Grandview resident and his team to destroy a bridge in Iraq.
He was perched in the gunner's hatch of their Humvee when an improvised explosive device blew up.
Shaw was knocked unconscious, falling to the floor of the vehicle.
Yet it wasn't until eight hours later, after the mission was completed and Shaw was exposed to two more explosions, that he saw a medic.
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"He knew something was wrong. He couldn't hear properly for a month, and had trouble walking and putting together sentences. He would go out on a mission and forget his gun or his ammo. He would forget conversations minutes later," said his wife, Sara Shaw.
Even so, the Army had him complete his tour, sending him home Nov. 29, 2006. He served as an Army combat engineer with the 166th Armored Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, 1st Brigade.
It wasn't until he was back in the U.S. that he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. Shaw also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
In the five years since the accident, his hearing has improved but the brain injury has left him hypersensitive to light and sound, and affects his ability to cope with daily tasks.
Once he couldn't talk and walk and go in a straight line all at the same time, but that has improved. Shaw still has problems with intermittent paralysis.
"It comes on quickly, paralyzing him completely and there's no medication to control it either," Sara Shaw said. "He's fine to look at, but he's not really."
These injuries have left him on permanent disability, unable to work.
"But we're coping. Every day is different," his wife said.
Thursday was a very different day for Shaw, one he called "interesting and exciting."
It was the day Shaw, 36, received his Purple Heart, nearly five years since the day he was injured.
Mike Gregoire, Gov. Chris Gregoire's husband, and John Lee, director of the State Department of Veterans affairs, presented the medal at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Veterans Administration Medical Center in Walla Walla.
They were in Walla Walla for a meeting of the Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee and to honor Shaw for his service.
If Shaw had been diagnosed at the time of his injury, it is likely he would have received his medal years ago. But that wasn't the case.
"Typically, to receive a Purple Heart, you have to have been wounded by enemy fire in combat," said Heidi Audette, communications director for the state Department of Veterans Affairs in Olympia.
If you are shot and have stitches or are missing a limb, everyone can see it. A brain injury like Shaw's is more subtle, which led to the delay in awarding his medal.
"At the time of Shaw's TBI, I think they had not quite connected all the dots," Audette said. "But since then, they have changed things. But that was not the case at the time of his injury."
"Sara fought very hard to get this to happen. She's the one you want on your side for sure," Audette said.
"There's no good answer (for the delay)," said Sara Shaw, 27, adding that it wasn't until she talked to top officials at the Department of Defense that the bureaucratic wheels began grinding.
"The Army, the (Veterans Administration) were not easy to fight," she said.
While her husband is proud to receive the Purple Heart, more than anything else, he thinks about those who are more injured than he is and about those who died in combat and received their medal posthumously.