By Angeljean Chiaramida STAFF WRITER
Newburyport Daily News
NEWBURY — Donald Jarvis didn't expect to become a local hero to his family and friends, but that's exactly what happened after the 26-year-old Newbury man came home earlier this year after being injured during his second Middle East military deployment.
"He's just a great guy," said Andrew Watson, a local musician who's known Jarvis for years. "He's a good friend and was injured overseas when the truck he was driving triggered an (improvised explosive device).
"I talked to him about it, and he put it this way: `I rolled over 300 pounds of explosives, directly under my driver's seat.'"
When Jarvis heard his words repeated back to him yesterday, he chuckled.
"Yeah, it was about 300 pounds, I guess," Jarvis said. "I was in Afghanistan on my second tour of duty. I had already spent a year in Iraq. Our job was removing the threats from the roads. It was Feb. 13. I was driving my vehicle — they call it a Buffalo — when I drove over the IED.
"My vehicle went up in the air and came down on the driver's side. I hurt my right knee, and I have what they call a mild traumatic brain injury. It hurts to walk, and I have headaches and some memory problems, and my eyes are sensitive to light."
An E-4 Specialist combat engineer with the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 182 Engineering Company of the 101 Engineering Battalion, Jarvis spent a week in the hospital in Germany and almost six months in an Army medical transitional facility in Virginia.
But he came back home to Newbury about a month ago, where he had spent most of his life with his aunt and uncle, Laurie and Gordon Jarvis, and his grandmother, Agnes Short.
His light sensitivity problem is handled with sunglasses and the knee injury with physical therapy and medication. He's constantly working on improving his short-term memory issues. He can't drive yet and is still recuperating, still finding his footing as well as a new career path.
But there's no "woe-is-me" attitude here, no self-pity. Far from it. This smiling, well-adjusted 2004 graduate of Triton Regional High School in Byfield is already working to help others. He's hoping to work with local historian Ghlee Woodworth on projects at a Newburyport cemetery. And through Community United Methodist Church in Byfield, he's volunteering at Link House in Newburyport, a residential program for men who struggle with drug and alcohol addictions.
"We go there every third Wednesday to help serve dinner," Jarvis said. "I'm trying to hook up with (state) Rep. Mike Costello. I think if I can talk with him, he can help me find other places to volunteer."
It's that attitude — combined with Jarvis' love of music — that has Watson and three other bands planning a tribute for him next Saturday, Nov. 17, at The Grog in Newburyport. Starting at 8 p.m., the event will feature four bands including Watson's group, Building James, as well as local bands Skinny Cleveland, Deep Keel and Ways to Fall. The cover charge is $5.
Watson hopes a crowd will show up to honor a "great kid who served us all by serving his country."
"I was hoping we'd raise enough money to send him on a little vacation," Watson said. "Now, I think we'll just give Don the (proceeds) and let him do whatever he wants with it."
A little vacation may not be necessary, because Jarvis has already been to Washington, D.C., for a tour of the White House organized by the Wounded Warriors organization. And he spent a little time with the leaders who work there.
"I met the president at the White House. And I met the vice president at a Washington Nationals game. It was great," he said, proudly pulling two Challenge Coins from his pocket, one bearing Barack Obama's name, the other Joe Biden's.
Watson and Jarvis met through music, so it seems fitting that the tribute revolves around it.
"Don was always so supportive of local bands," Watson said. "He was really great. He'd do whatever he could to help. That's why we want to do this."
Jarvis loves music so much, he had made it his career, and hopes to again. Prior to his military service, he worked for promote New England Concerts.
"I think before he left he wanted to start his own concert production company," Watson said. "And I think he still wants to do that. We really hope a lot of people will come to The Grog. This is a great guy and it's going to be a crazy, rockin' night."