COLORADO SPRINGS, CO — "I promise to always take care of my brothers and sisters," said Israel Del Toro as he reads from his new book A Patriot's Promise.
Those words were some of the last Del Toro said to his dying father. The next day his father was gone.
"Most people don't think that at the age of 12, you're going to lose a dad and then a year and a half later then you're going to lose your mom," Del Toro said.
But Del Toro says the early losses in his life were preparing him for what was to come.
"It took me a bit to understand why it was happening, why all these obstacles were thrown at me," Del Toro said. "I think it was because the Big Man wanted me to be ready for this biggest challenge that was going to confront me, be able to overcome it, and then start helping people by honoring that promise to my dad."
That challenge came in December 2005 when Del Toro got orders from the Air Force to capture or kill a high value target in Afghanistan. The special warfare operator and a lieutenant were headed to pick up the rest of their team, when their Humvee hit a roadside bomb.
"We crossed this creek and no more than 200 meters after we crossed this creek, I feel this intense heat blast and I said, 'Holy crap we just got hit.' Something in my head tells me, 'You got to get out of this truck' and I pop the door and but when I got out of the truck, I was on fire from head to toe."
Del Toro eventually collapsed as the flames overtook him.
"I'm thinking, 'This is it. I broke my promise to my family that I'll always come back, I broke my promise to my son that I'll never let him grow up without his dad like I did, but, most importantly, I was going to break my promise to my dad that I will always take care of my family.' "
That promise is now part of the title of his new book A Patriot's Promise: Protecting My Brothers, Fighting for My Life, and Keeping My Word. It takes readers through his fight to live and how he continues to stand by his motto "Stay Strong, Finish Strong" now permanently tattooed on his arms.
His wife Carmen's story through his recovery is a huge part, too.
"I thought it was very important to share that story," he said. "I had to share the story of what Carmen went through when I was in a coma."
His wife found out he was injured on her birthday as she was standing in church. She "felt a commotion behind her" and saw her sister waving "to come to her." She knew something was wrong when her sister said, "Junior's friend called. He is going to call again in five minutes." In an instant, she remembered her husband's warning: If one of my friends calls you, that means something bad has happened, and I may be in the hospital.
Three months later Del Toro woke up from his coma. He had nearly died three more times.
As he lay in bed, former President George W. Bush awarded him the Purple Heart.
"I think it was a Purple Heart ceremony that someone was receiving one and I was like, 'Hey when am I going to get mine?' Everyone said, 'You already did.' I said, 'Well who gave it to me?' They said, 'President Bush.' I said, 'Well I don't remember that.'"
Now those stories and countless others are permanently on the page, with the help of co-author T. L. Heyer. Del Toro is quick to point out that writing a book was a very difficult task for a man missing one hand and half of the other.
"(Heyer) said, 'Why haven't you written a book?' I said, 'Whoa, come on! I don't have fingers! I can't write a book!' She said, 'Well, I'll be your fingers for you." I said, 'Alright, sounds good.'"
A memoir capturing the 48-year-old's journey to keep the promise he made decades ago.
"At the end it's just a kid trying to honor his dad, that's what I'm trying to do," Del Toro said.
Del Toro's book is available July 4th everywhere books are sold. Click here for more information.
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