Marine retires with positive attitude
5/16/2009 6:45:02 AM
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By Karen Colbenson

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

"Retired at 24."

It's not something many people can say. But then again, most people haven't worked like Dan Stewart has.

With a slight limp, 24-year-old Cpl. Stewart, of Austin, marched up to his fellow Marines and accepted his certificate of retirement Friday at the American Legion. Dozens of servicemen holding flags and veterans from around the area surrounded Stewart, as did several of his family members.

"Retired at 24? It's sad in a way, but I'm feeling very good," said Stewart. "The good always outweighs the bad."

That's Stewart's motto: "Always think about the positives."

Even though Stewart will live the rest of his life recovering from a traumatic brain injury sustained when a roadside bomb hidden along a road in Iraq exploded, he said he appreciates the experiences he had during his service.

Even though Stewart has visible scars covering his head, a permanent reminder of the skin grafting, tissue expanders, plates and screws and other medical procedures he has gone through over the past four years, he sees only progress.

Even though Stewart, who joined the Marines in 2003 and served three tours in Iraq, has been away from home for six years and is coming home a changed man -- mentally and physically -- he has only kind words and gratitude for others.

"Not only did my fellow Marines not give up on me, but my family and friends never gave up on me," said Stewart. "They have helped me become a better person."

Stewart also spoke with excitement about his newly renovated house, which he calls his dream home.

Handicapped features recently were added to Stewart's house at 1504 Second Ave. N.W. Jackel Construction of Austin completed the renovations, which were paid for with a $60,000 grant from a Veterans Association benefit and a $45,000 donation from the nonprofit Marine Corp. Semper Fi Fund.

"Every guy's dream is having a bathroom in his bedroom," Stewart joked.

Craig Jackel, owner of the construction company, said it was "a great honor" to be included in the house project and Stewart's retirement program.

"The first time I met Dan...I was totally blown away by how he handles himself," said Jackel, with tears in his eyes. "It's never about him; he's always asking, 'What can I do to help others?' To me, that's a huge statement. That takes a pretty special person."

Austin veteran Norm Hecimovich presented Stewart with a retirement certificate, as well as a certificate of appreciation, a Quilt of Valor, a United States flag and a letter from President George W. Bush.

"Our nation is proud because of individuals like you," said Hecimovich.

He then read the president's letter: "You have helped maintain the security of the nation during a critical time in its history with devotion and duty and a spirit of sacrifice in keeping with the proud traditions of military service. Your commitment and dedication have been an inspiration for those who will follow in your footsteps."

City council member Jeff Austin then presented a Key to the City of Austin to Stewart.

Most people would call Stewart a hero, but he humbly shakes his head at the notion.

"I don't think any Marine will think of himself as a hero," said Stewart. "We just do our job."