Life forever changed for one U.S. Marine from Grover Beach during his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.
On the morning of June 12, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Cody Elliott and his platoon were patrolling the Helmand Province when they walked into a field of improvised explosive devices.
Elliott, 21, was severely injured in the explosion, requiring his left leg to be amputated below the knee. He also suffered multiple broken bones and lost one of his fingers.
He has undergone several surgeries and has two more major operations scheduled in the near future. It’s unknown when the Marine will be able to return home, said Kerri Richey, Elliott’s mother.
“We are not sure. Maybe in a couple of months,” said Richey, who left Grover Beach 11 days ago to be at her son’s bedside at the National Naval Medical Center in Maryland.
“That’s the gray area right now,” she added.
Elliott spent the first 10 years of his life in Paso Robles and the next seven in the Five Cities area before enlisting in the Marine Corps at 17. He had to get his mother’s permission to join the military because he wasn’t 18.
He attended classes at Arroyo Grande High School and received his high school diploma from the Grizzly Youth Academy at Camp San Luis Obispo.
Asked how she felt about her son wanting to join the military when the country was at war, Richey grew quiet for several seconds before answering in a somewhat somber tone.
“Not good,” she said. “He originally wanted to be in the Coast Guard. I was very excited about that. One day he walked into the house and said, ‘I want to be a Marine. I said, ‘No, you don’t.’ He said, ‘Yes, I do.’”
Richey admitted that she was hesitant at first about her son joining the Marines, but she was eventually swayed to his way of thinking.
“My initial, first feeling was, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” she said. “I was also very concerned (that something could happen to him). He convinced me that this is what he wanted to do and be.”
Elliott, who was scheduled for surgery Wednesday, wasn’t available for comment prior to press time. However, Richey said her son is making tremendous progress since his transfer to the Maryland hospital.
“He’s able to talk and to text,” Richey said. “It’s a bittersweet feeling. As a mom, it’s excruciating to see less of him come home. It’s not the way that I pictured it. But I am so blessed to be here by his side, and I am so, so proud of him.”
She added, “Since he became a Marine, he has been my hero.”
Elliott’s fiancée, Katie Daly, also traveled with Richey to Maryland but declined to comment. The couple met after Elliott returned to the Five Cities area in December 2009, following his first tour of duty in the Middle East. The pair still plan to get married, Richey said.
“I am speaking for the both of us,” Richey said. “As hard as it is to see him in this place, we are so happy and grateful just to be by his side.”
Richey and her husband, Brian, also have a 4-year-old daughter, two foster children, four dogs and three cats. Brian stayed in Grover Beach to care for the family.
“He’s been an awesome super-mom,” Richey said.
She said the community has pulled together and helped in many different ways, which has allowed a mom to be with her injured son during his time of need. Richey plans to spend the next three weeks in Maryland with her son.
“From the bottom of my broken heart, it just means so much that I can be here. I am overwhelmed with gratefulness.”