Gregg Zoroya and Alan Gomez,USA TODAY
- A roadside bomb set Tony Porta on fire in Iraq six years ago
- When he has to deal with others' reactions, home sometimes doesn't feel like home
- With the help of wife and family, he's moving forward in life
BELTSVILLE, MD. - Six years have passed since a roadside bomb set Ronny "Tony" Porta on fire in Iraq when he was 20, and he's still trying to find his way home.
Each reflection in the mirror bears witness to why that is not easy.
Every stranger who points or stares, every teenager who mocks with the word "monster" or couple that whisper behind his back that the disfigurement is the price for invading a country, tells Porta he hasn't quite left the battlefield behind.
"This is home for me," says Porta, 26, who grew up in suburban-Washington Beltsville after his family emigrated from Peru. "But sometimes, it's kind of hard saying, 'I am home.'"
Two months ago, a man approached Porta in a Home Depot. He stood studying the burns on Porta's face and asked if a car accident was to blame. Porta, wearing a Marine Corps sweatshirt, said, no, it was an IED explosion in Iraq.
What really stuck with Porta and angers him still were the words the man said next: "Was it worth it?" Is it so difficult, Porta asks, to see that those who volunteer in defense of the nation know it can carry a price? "Freedom is not free," he says, echoing an age-old American refrain.