Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Chris Bain stood from his seat on a bench just outside the large dining room adjacent to the Dataw Island clubhouse and shook the hand of each of the community's residents who passed.
They thanked him for his service, congratulated him and thanked him for his story.
Bain, now a Bluffton resident and student at Professional Golfers Career College, was part of the winning team at Tuesday's Purple Heart Golf Classic. The Dataw Island event, in its sixth year, has raised more than $100,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, which offers programs for injured service members, and Folds of Honor, which provides scholarships for the dependents of those killed or injured in service.
The tournament was started with the help of Dataw Island resident and retired U.S. Army Col. Glenn Blackburn, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient.
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After the golf, Bain was asked to speak to those of the more than 200 participants who stayed for lunch and awards. He told the story of his "alive day," the term veterans give to the day they suffered near-fatal injuries in battle.
On April 8, 2004, Bain was teaching convoy operations to a military hospital team when he ran into his twin brother, Kim, at the camp where Chris was picking up supplies. Chris knew Kim was coming but hadn't expected him for six more months.
The brothers spent much of the day together before Bain returned to Camp Taji, about 20 miles north of Baghdad. Later that day, Bain received the go-ahead to raid two houses in the town of Taji.
"I said, 'You know what? I'm having a great day,' " Bain said. "It can't get any worse. Alls it can do is get better. Boom."
The staff sergeant and his 14 men were ambushed before they left the compound. A mortar round landed feet in front of Bain, blowing him back 20 feet. He was hit twice in the back and shot in the elbow and buttocks.
He lost 4 1/2 pints of blood and "died for 10 minutes." A transfusion on site from two Iraqi interpreters saved Bain's life. He was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and later to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
He stayed at Walter Reed three years, refusing an amputation to his left arm and surgery to his right arm. Doctors implanted a battery pack connected to Bain's spine that sends impulses to the left side of his body. The batteries have to be replaced every four or five years.
Bain said the best way to replicate the constant feeling in his left side would be to stick your finger in an electrical socket.
"That's what I'll live with the rest of my life," said Bain, who is 42. "I'm still golfing a pretty damn good game."
Bain plays to a 5.9 handicap after re-learning the game he picked up at age 14 in his native Valencia, Calif. He picked range balls by hand working at his local golf course and crafted his swing by hitting all the balls to one target to save time scooping them.
He will graduate from PGCC on Dec. 7 and hopes to work in consulting for Brown Golf Management, which owns four courses in Bluffton.
He also wants to continue as a volunteer for the Wounded Warrior Project.
More than 30 injured veterans played at Dataw Island on Tuesday, including Sgt. 1st Class Angel Sanchez Torres, a Savannah resident. Torres is the Wounded Warrior liaison for Fort Stewart and credits the program for turning his life around after he severely injured his left leg in Iraq when his convoy rolled over an improvised explosive device in March 2006.
Torres said he turned to alcohol, prescription pain killers and anti-depressants to help him deal with chronic PTSD.
Wounded Warrior representatives pestered him into joining their events. He began competing in archery competitions in 2012 and first played golf this past March.
"I was in my own bubble," said the 44-year-old Torres, a Puerto Rico native who needed seven surgeries on his left leg and walks with a cane. "I didn't want to do anything anymore.
"I went to a golf event. I got treated so well, it was like it brings life back again."
Torres will retire in August 2014 after 20 years in the Army. He plans to accept a job with the Wounded Warrior Project, helping others the same way he was helped.
Bain said he wants to help injured veterans afraid of speaking out, wants them to become involved in communities and be recognized as heroes.
Bain's father was a U.S. Marine. Kim, who was recently promoted to Sgt. First Class, is still enlisted and serving a tour in Afghanistan.
The brothers spoke this week.
Bain learned two years after his alive day how the ambush was laid. An Army investigation revealed that an interpreter who had been with Bain and his men more than four months had given up their position.
Taliban had kidnapped the interpreter's family and threatened to kill them if he didn't cooperate. Bain said he forgives the man, that he was only acting in the interest of family.
"I didn't have to give the ultimate," Bain said. "I gave a little. I didn't get to serve anymore. But I'm still here kicking and can still be part of a community and society and be part of great things and make a difference."