Veterans Day: What Makes a Hero?

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'Just Follow Me'

He was just short of his 27th birthday and already a veteran of three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. On a mission with Alpha Company of the 4th Squadron of the 4th Cavalry Regiment, Staff Sgt. Jarboe had just cleared up some confusion in the field by declaring the mission over and giving the command, "Just follow me."

A sniper was watching and waiting. The next split-second would change everything.

There's a small unprotected space between every soldier's helmet and the body armor covering their shoulders. That's where the bullet struck.

Jarboe later told columnist Tom Sileo of unknownsoldiersblog.com that "the scariest part was when I realized what happened ... the blood was soaking my clothes. ... I remember looking at my hand and it wouldn't move."

Jarboe had been married for just over two months. He'd called his wife the night before, convinced he would not make it home. He and his soldiers were fighting for their lives, every day.

"He made a promise to come home to the kids and I," says his wife Melissa.

Jarboe had embraced his new family, Melissa and daughters Celestial and Alexa.

"We were focused on having a little boy to carry on the Jarboe name," Melissa told me. "We wanted to take the kids to Disney World. We wanted to live the American dream."

Read all of ABC News' Veterans Day coverage here.

In the interview with Sileo, just over a year ago, Jarboe said that as he lay on the ground staring up at the sky he thought about his wife and two children.

"If I'm going to succumb to these wounds then it will be on my own terms ... I'm not dying out here," he said.

It was the beginning of a remarkable journey.

Two days later he was at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland.

"His first words were I love you," says Melissa, then, "Don't leave me."

She didn't. Jarboe lived for another 11 months. His wife, Melissa, his constant companion.

Paralyzed from the chest down, he fought to stay alive. In between time with his wife and daughters he endured more than 100 procedures and surgeries.

The soldiers of 4/4 came home in February, 10 months after Jarboe was shot. It was an emotional reunion.

"He was happy," recounts Melissa. "He smiled ear to ear, he missed them so much."

But two days later, according to his wife, "he started coding."

His heart stopped and started; his lungs collapsed.

"They told us he was terminal, but we wanted to keep fighting," she says.

Jarboe told her he was "not ready to die."

Later that week, according to Melissa, "everything started to shut down."

Jarboe told her, "We have only one choice... Get a piece of paper and a pencil."

Then, according to Melissa, "We started going over everything he wanted us to do ... for his soldiers, for his children and for myself and never once did he cry."

Melissa paused during our conversation then, in a smaller voice, said, "I cried for a couple of days until he told me to stop."

That private moment when two people who love each other face death will remain private. Melissa says that for a few months she couldn't remember details from those last precious moments. It's starting to come back.

"I remember how strong he was," she says. "I remember how much he loved me and how he would smile when I walked into the room."

Jamie Jarboe lived and died on his own terms. But it is how he chose to die that makes us look deep inside ourselves.

He continues to be a hero, "every day" to his family and his soldiers, Melissa says.

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