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After a Marine loses his memory, he and his wife navigate a new kind of relationship

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, recording and sharing the stories of service members and their families. In 2008, Sergeant Matthew Perry was hit by three IEDs in one day while stationed in Afghanistan. He continued to serve, and a couple of years later, while on leave, he met his future wife, Captain Helen Perry.

HELEN PERRY: Our first date was Olive Garden, and that was very fancy for us then. You were kind of chunky.

MATTHEW PERRY: And devastatingly handsome - you forgot that one.

H PERRY: Devastatingly handsome - and you were funny and optimistic, and nothing could break you.

SIMON: But eventually, his traumatic brain injuries led to a grand mal seizure. And Helen, who was a trained army nurse, was able to resuscitate him before they reached the hospital. They came to StoryCorps to remember that day.

H PERRY: The doctor came in and started doing the neuro exams. What year is it. And you didn't know. What was your name? You lifted up your wrist and read your name off the bracelet. You said, Perry, Matthew R. And they said, do you know who this is? And you turned and looked at me and said, she seems familiar. You were still, like, real attached to me. Like, if you went for a test, you'd be like, she needs to come. And I remember I asked you one time, what if I had been the cleaning lady?

M PERRY: You might have just been taking out trash, but you were there.

H PERRY: But I was there. And then they sent you home, and you still had no memory. And then it's never come back. How do you hold on to memories?

M PERRY: Do I?

(LAUGHTER)

M PERRY: I don't hold on to memories. It's either - stays, or it doesn't stay. It's like reading the back cover of a movie, but not watching the movie.

H PERRY: Which I guess - you get to skip some of the boring parts.

M PERRY: What moments do you wish I could remember but can't?

H PERRY: That's kind of hard. Do you remember what you said when I posted the ultrasound on the bathroom mirror?

M PERRY: No.

H PERRY: You were like, what's this? And then you got very excited. But, I mean, I know you remember Ethan being born fairly well.

M PERRY: Yeah. I do remember Ethan's birth. I was the first one that got to hold him, and then I got to take him to the room and spend just a solid two hours just me and him, nobody else - don't 100% remember how I felt, though. That's the main parts I forget. It's the feeling and emotions part.

H PERRY: What are your biggest fears?

M PERRY: That I'm going to fail as a father.

H PERRY: You're a great daddy, though.

M PERRY: For the beginning part, I loved waking up and changing his diaper and feeding him. But when he gets older and starts asking me questions, that's going to be really tough 'cause it can be hard to tell him to do it this way or this way if I can't remember how to do it myself. Everybody else grows up, and they learn from their experiences. I don't get that.

H PERRY: You have been through hell and back. If people only knew what going to war does to people.

M PERRY: Am I still the same person?

H PERRY: You're still the same person. You still have this optimism about you and life and still make jokes. You're still just you.

SIMON: That was Captain Helen and Sergeant Matthew Perry in Orlando, Fla., for StoryCorps. Matthew eventually received a Purple Heart. He's now a proud stay-at-home father. Helen works around the world doing humanitarian and relief work in war zones. Their conversation has been archived at the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 8, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous headline and Web description for this segment incorrectly suggested that Matthew and Helen Perry met the day she saved him and that they fell in love as a result. In fact, they had been married for four years when she resuscitated him on the way to the hospital.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Eleanor Vassili