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J.R. Martinez was fresh out of the Army boot camp when he was shipped to Iraq. Six months later his armored vehicle rolled over a landmine, killing everyone inside except him. He suffered severe burns over almost 40% percent of his body; yet Martinez managed to overcome both his physical and mental injuries, and in time he successfully managed to start a new life  ̶ he became the winner of the popular Dancing with the Stars TV show, an actor in the soap opera All My Children, and when he’s not at home with his family he travels across the United States as a motivational speaker and an activist for Veterans’ rights.

The son of an immigrant single mother, J.R.’s story of overcoming many hard obstacles began even before he was wounded in the Middle East and it’s incredibly inspiring by itself. But the reason I chose to bring it to the attention of our readers, is because of something he mentioned while he was interviewed by Chris Ryan for his podcast Tangentially Speaking: At around an hour and eighteen minutes into the conversation, when Chris asks Martinez if he thought the ordeals he went through were part of his ‘destiny’, J.R.’s begins answering the question by talking about a sister of his that died when he was just three years old, with whom he felt a very strong kinship despite the fact he never actually met her  ̶ the girl remained with his mom’s family in El Salvador. When he visited his sister’s gravesite at the age of nine, J.R. says to Chris in the podcast, he was overwhelmed with emotion and started to cry inconsolably without knowing why.

“Fast forward ten years later,” Martinez explains, “I’m nineteen years old in Iraq, in a Humvee; I’m literally burning alive. I’m trapped inside of a truck that is engulfed in flames; I’m conscious. And amidst of me screaming and yelling to the top of my lungs for someone to come pull me out, and amidst of me thinking of all the things that I wanted to do (the bucket list, the goals, the plans! ) suddenly there’s this quiet place that just presents itself… and my sister  ̶ and the only way that I’d seen her [was] in one particular photo that my mother had ̶  appears to me and tells me that I’m going to be okay. And it felt as if, not even a second later I was pulled out of the Humvee.”

Martinez finishes his fascinating account by telling how he was put into a medically-induced coma, and three weeks later he woke up at the Burn Center in San Antonio, Texas, with his mother at his bedside. And when he told her about what happened inside the burning vehicle in Iraq, she broke down in tears and said to him “she’s your guardian angel.” 

guardian angel

For Latin American Catholics, the figure of the guardian angel is very important, and all young children are taught to recite a particular prayer just before they go to bed:

“Ángel de la Guarda, dulce compañía,

no me desampares, ni de noche ni de día

hasta que me pongas en los brazos

de Jesús, José y María.”

(My guardian angel, o sweet companion,

do not abandon me, neither by night nor day

until you deliver me in the arms 

of Jesus, Joseph and Mary.)

Modern Psychology, however, has named this particular phenomenon the “3rd Man Factor,” which has been reported by soldiers abandoned in the battlefield, climbers buried alive by an avalanche, lost mountaineers, or any type of people finding themselves stranded during a life-or-death situation. It is then that these individuals report a sort of ‘presence’ that is not only comforting, but can sometimes guide them out of danger; or least accompany them until they are rescued, as it was the case with J.R. Martinez.

3rd Man Factor

Of course, psychologists would say this beatific presence is merely an illusion fabricated by the brain in order to ensure the survival of the individual; but given the circumstances surrounding Martinez’s incident  ̶ why didn’t the young soldier ‘hallucinate’ his mother, instead of a relative with which he had no direct personal relationship? ̶  and the fact he’s convinced that, since his experience in Iraq, there’s been several pivotal events in his life which have taken place around the date of his sister’s birthday, I prefer to side with JR’s mom in thinking he indeed has a guardian angel looking after him.