The pain reads like a book on U.S Marine 1st Lt. David Borden's face.

Between winces and saying words he later apologizes for using, Borden struggles to move leg muscles that have not supported his weight in months during a recent physical therapy session at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Sometimes the pain is so bad his attention focuses entirely on fighting through it.

The Delone Catholic High School graduate said the area where his right leg was amputated from the knee down felt like it was on fire.

It has been nearly four months since a suicide bomber detonated an explosive near the 27-year-old in Ramadi, Iraq -- a blast that took the life of a fellow Marine and injured three others.

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. David Borden exercises his left arm with occupational therapist Kristi Say at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. David Borden exercises his left arm with occupational therapist Kristi Say at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. A suicide bomber severely injured Borden as his platoon was fighting insurgents in Ramadi, Iraq, four months ago, leading to the amputation of Borden's lower right leg. (Daily Record/Sunday News - James Robinson)

Borden was leading a platoon of about 40 Marines through Ramadi when fighting broke out with a group of insurgents.

Few parts of Borden's body escaped injury.

His right foot was blown off, and doctors later amputated from the knee down.

Both of his forearms were broken, the left one shattered. He suffered a collapsed lung, a ruptured bladder and the loss of hearing in his left ear. About 150 ball bearings struck him all over his body, many of which remain embedded in his skin.

He underwent 18 operations and still cannot sit up.

Borden is expected to make a full recovery, but progress is slow at Walter Reed.

His father, David Borden Sr., expects his son will undergo at least four more operations.

A recent recipient of a Purple Heart, Borden said he is nothing special.

He will tell you he is just "fine."

And asked whether the price he has already paid to serve his country was worth it, he said, "I'd do it again."

The session nears its end, and physical therapist Laura Friedman tells Borden she is encouraged by his progress.

She expects he will be able to stand soon.

'Lifelong ambition'

David Borden Sr. does not pretend to understand what it is about the Marines that inspired his son to sign a contract for four years of service, something he called his son's "lifelong ambition."

The Bordens are not a military family, and neither father nor son could cite a specific reason why a recent college graduate like Borden would want to join the military during wartime.

"He just believes in it," the father said.

One thing is for sure: Life in the Marine Corps was by no means a last resort.

The younger Borden graduated in 1999 from Delone Catholic High School, where he played basketball and football. He attended Kutztown University, played wide receiver on the school's football team and earned a degree in finance and marketing. Later, he landed a job at Cintas, a uniform manufacturing company.

But he had "always wanted to be a Marine," he said.

Just five months after the Marines deployed Borden to Iraq, the family's worry that something might happen converted into a need to cope with what already had.

While in Iraq, Borden's platoon had been charged with training Iraqi police and security forces in the Ramadi region. The Marines were "conducting security operations" when insurgents struck Jan. 19, Borden said.

Before the blast, Borden would have said the possibility of being hurt or killed in Iraq was no deterrent. "It doesn't really cross your mind," he said.

When his son was injured, the elder Borden said the family was immediately notified.

Lionel Smith prays during a service for U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. David Borden at Delone Catholic High School’s chapel. Borden graduated from Delone
Lionel Smith prays during a service for U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. David Borden at Delone Catholic High School's chapel. Borden graduated from Delone in 1999. (Daily Record/Sunday News - James Robinson)
He and David's mother, Tina, have been at his side ever since.

They often take turns, splitting time between home and Walter Reed.

'They'll be running'

On the table next to Borden sits a young man with two amputated legs. Another man, whose prosthetic leg is hidden beneath his clothing, walks on a nearby treadmill.

Lining the walls are state-of-the-art exercise equipment - most designed for the rehabilitation needs of amputees.

In this room, Borden spends about two hours a day on physical and occupational therapy. Having lost 80 pounds since January, nearly every muscle in Borden's body is weak from his injuries and numerous operations.

His father is optimistic.

He boasts about the care his son is getting, and he willingly volunteers tours of the facility.

"The therapists here are the best in the world," David Borden Sr. said. "You'll see people here that have lost both legs . . . and they'll be running."

He points to a spherical apparatus only a state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility would employ. The purpose of this particular equipment is to help amputees get back their golf swings. And David Borden Sr. has every intention of seeing his son use the technology.

When the center opened, 500 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who lost limbs or the function of a limb had already been treated at Walter Reed.

Officials determined there was a need for the amputee-treatment center, despite the government's plan to close Walter Reed in 2011. The center was designed so equipment can be moved easily to another location.

Like the golf aid, most of the equipment here is still beyond Borden's ability to use. But the center serves as a constant reminder of what Borden is expected to accomplish.

Prayers and prognosis

Another year could pass before Borden moves to a permanent home outside the campus of Walter Reed, a facility no visitors can enter without having first volunteered personal information and displayed photo identification.

The security red tape has not kept Borden's family and friends from visiting, however. And those who have not visited have shown their support in other ways - most recently through a prayer service at Delone organized by family friends.

Among the notes written to him at the service by family members, friends and strangers:

"David, hang in there, big guy. Better days are ahead."

"Thank you for your dedication, courage and sacrifice for our country and the Iraqi people."

In terms of recovery, Borden said his personal goal is to someday walk without any noticeable deviation in his step.

"There isn't going to be anything that stops me or prevents me," he said.

David Borden Sr. said he expects his son will be able to visit home on the weekends once he is able to move himself into a wheelchair.

As for the future, the younger Borden said he has every intention of remaining an active-duty Marine during and after his rehabilitation.

"I signed the contract for four years," he said. "I'll fulfill that obligation."