CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Last May, Sgt. Andrew Smith found himself walking that fine line separating life and death in the desert of Afghanistan when a mortar exploded four feet away from him.
"I was angry that I'd been hit, and I didn't want to die," said Smith of the attack."I kept thinking, 'Really, really is this the way I'm going to go out?'"
Smith's friend and fellow sniper, Cpl. Keith Cobb, helplessly stood by.
"It wasn't a good day at all knowing your buddy is bleeding out and you have no clue what's going on," said Cobb.
Hours later Smith awoke to find himself in a hospital bed surrounded by doctors.
"That was the first conversation that I woke up to a few hours after the blast, after my first surgery was them talking about taking my left leg, " said Smith. "I was still hazy, that's the only thing I protested about in the hospital. I just kept saying, 'Please, please don't take my left leg.'"
Up until the mortar attack, Smith had survived three months in Afghanistan after he voluntarily dropped out of the College of Charleston.
His Marine sniper battalion killed a number of known terrorists.
"Like I said you sleep you eat, you fight, and that's it," said Smith.
Last year as Americans celebrated Osama Bin Laden's death by Navy Seals, Smith's battalion feared retaliation.
"The only scary part was that some of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police weren't very happy, so that was a little bit scary and we started watching our backs," said Smith. "If you entered where we lived, we had something set up on the door, so it was extremely loud it would wake all of us up."
Now Smith faced the fear of losing his leg. As it would turn out, during his five-day stay in a Maryland hospital he would be the only wounded Marine on his floor to avoid a life-altering amputation.
"Every doctor that I've talked to over the past year is just really blown away that I got to keep my left leg," Smith said.
The Marine sniper received the Purple Heart with his parents at his side in the hospital. Now that a year has past, Smith has returned to Charleston.
His Purple Heart status has perks, like free municipal parking and free tuition at South Carolina universities for any children Smith may have in the future. But still scars and shrapnel pepper his body from war, stigma also serves as a reminder.
"I've had on several occasions people ask me if I'm crazy," said Smith. "I have been affected by the war, and it changed my personality, but I haven't had any symptoms of PTSD or anything like that."
The 24-year-old veteran says stereotypes aside, above all Americans should remember the sacrifice.