SAN DIEGO -- If you have seen Shane Krutchen, you have probably noticed he is covered in tattoos.
"As much as I can, I purposely don't wear a shirt," Krutchen said Thursday.
He knows what people think at first.
"Oh, here's another guy fully tattooed," he added.
He fought for his freedom to do what he wants. He joined the Marine Corps before he was old enough to vote.
"I was 17 when I first deployed to the invasion of Iraq," Krutchen said. "An explosion had happened next to my head."
He said doctors stitched the skin over his fractured skull and sent him back into battle.
"Every Thanksgiving I look back. This is the anniversary of Phantom Fury."
While his peers were busy going to high school dances, he was watching his Marine brothers die on the battlefield. For some, he would scream their names, in hopes they would come to, then see them take their final breath.
"You can see their face, and they're not responding, and it's like TV when they stare at you," he explained. "Their lifeless body is sitting there. It really attacks you in the deepest parts of your body."
His unit lost 19 Marines. Krutchen was assigned to bury eight of his friends in less than a month.
"No parent should outlive their child," Krutchen told 10News.
He remembers prison guards escorting a dad to say goodbye to his son.
"You see tears in his eyes, and it's really sad because he has to be at the funeral in prison garb… in shackles. His son was killed protecting the country.”
"That was really hard: I mean it still rides on my soul pretty hard."
The agony in his heart darkened his mind. Krutchen started drinking and doing drugs to numb the pain, and he packed on more than 100 pounds. Then, in 2009, he decided death would be easier.
"Basically, I was going to kill myself," he said.
Krutchen rented a room and washed cocaine and pills down with liters of vodka. He nearly got his wish when he flat lined. However, police officers kicked down the door and saved him.
He had hit rock bottom.
"Here's this guy that served the country proudly, and here I am trying to kill myself, and I'm defecating on myself," Krutchen explained.
That day, he decided to embrace life because of those who could not.
The Wounded Warrior Project was at his bedside. The WWP is part of the reason Krutchen stayed drug-free, earned two degrees and got a job. Krutchen is also an elite MMA fighter who has won a world title. He will fight in Madison Square Garden on New Year's Eve. He said, win or lose, he will give more than half the money to help other wounded warriors. He’s also a dad his three-year-old daughter can be proud of.
Krutchen is thankful for the fallen, who had his back, and are forever honored on his. He is a walking memorial because he tattooed the names of those killed in action on his back. That is why he walks around without a shirt on.
"I just want people to remember the guys that never came home. Those guys are the real heroes."