Sean and Adam Hartswick are father and son, infantry soldier and Army medic.
They share a bond forged in military experiences but deepened by injury and recovery.
In the weeks after Adam Hartswick lost both legs to a bomb blast in Afghanistan, Sean Hartswick slept in his son’s room at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Sean Hartswick, with 34 years of Army service under his belt, had witnessed severe injuries many times. But it’s different seeing the pain in the eyes of your own son.
Adam Hartswick was struck by an improvised explosive device on May 14, 2013. He’s had 18 surgeries since.
“We’ve always been close,” Sean Hartswick said. “I think that’s paid dividends in going through this. It’s been tough, but it’s been good to be with Adam, watching him progress and heal.”
Sean Hartswick and Adam’s mother, Morgen Hummel, have taken turns staying with Adam in Bethesda during his intense rehabilitation. They divorced when Adam was very young, Sean Hartswick said.
“The first 60 nights, he slept in my hospital room,” Adam Hartswick said. “I had nightmares. He slept on a chair in my room.”
Adam Hartswick added: “My dad and I have a great relationship. We have both served in the Army, although he’s spent a lot more time in than I have.”
And Sean’s not done, although he entered the Army in 1979 and has served past the typical period for retirement.
“They’re letting me roll, and I can maybe squeeze out three more years,” Sean Hartswick said. “But me being involved with the military now helps with issues that arise with Adam.”
Military service could keep them apart this Father’s Day. Sean was to be in Fort Knox, Ky., on Saturday. He’s scheduled to be in North Carolina next week.
Sean hoped to get back to State College for a cookout with Adam and other relatives.
“There’s a family reunion Sunday,” he said, “and I’ve missed most of them over the past 30 years.”
Adam speaks with pride of his father’s military experiences. He said his dad is an expert marksman, one of the top 100 shooters in the Army.
“He’s had 14 deployments all over the world,” Adam Hartswick said.
Sean Hartswick said that serving meant a lot of time away when Adam was young. But they tried to make up for it with fishing excursions to Alaska, or a trip to Puerto Rico.
“How many people get to share that much time with their son? It’s been special,” Sean Hartswick said. “We’ve made the most of everything.
“Most fathers and sons see each other a couple of times a year, maybe go fishing or whatever. That’s not just the military, but in the civilian world, too.”
And times apart can be filled with fear and anxiety when one — or both — have pledged themselves to serving their country.
“You know that every time somebody deploys, it could be the last time you ever see them,” Sean Harts-wick said. “So you don’t mess around with it. When you’re hanging around, you party hard, you eat good. You do something real, something you’re going to remember the rest of your life.
“And if things don’t work out the best, then you’ve done everything you could and you’ve got some damn good memories of that individual.”
This is a family with three generations of military memories.
Both of Adam Hartswick’s grandfathers served in World War II. Morgen Hummel’s father, the late Max Hummel, landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day in the second wave of the Normandy invasion. Sean Hartswick’s father, also Max, served in the South Pacific.
“We’ve been able to bond together over military experiences,” Adam Hartswick said. “Every soldier has the same stories. You share the modern-day soldier’s story with a World War II vet, and he’ll understand. Soldiers never change.”
That father-son bond has only grown stronger as Adam has pushed through his recovery. Soon, he’ll be driving a new Toyota Tundra pickup — fitted with hand controls. In the future, prosthetics will allow Adam to drive a traditional vehicle.
“He did really well. I’m proud of him,” Sean Hartswick said of his son’s recovery. “He never complained and he never gave up. He just kept going.”
Adam Hartswick will return to Afghanistan in July to visit the region where that bomb took his legs. Afterward, he’ll have more stories to share with his father.
“He was infantry. I’m a combat medic,” Adam Hartswick said. “So we’re father and son, grunt and doc.”