Army Sgt. Monte Bernardo's mother, brother and four sisters hurried to visit the wounded soldier, who lost parts of three limbs in a bomb blast in Afghanistan on July 4.
They wanted to comfort Bernardo, 30, who grew up in Petaluma and was serving his second tour in Afghanistan when the bomb went off during a firefight in Kandahar province.
But the inspiration seems to be flowing the other way.
"When I looked him in the eyes, I knew he was very proud and he was strong," said his brother, Frank Bernardo, 36, of Dallas. "One of the first things he said was, &‘I'm an American hero.'"
"He knows what he has sacrificed for his country and for our freedom, and he's proud of it," said Frank Bernardo, an Air Force Reserve staff sergeant.
On Friday, Monte Bernardo was moved from the intensive care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to the fourth floor, known as the "wounded warrior" floor.
His right leg was amputated above the knee, his left leg cut off below the knee, and his left hand is gone.
Stella Shafer, 26, of Portland, Ore., was the first sibling to arrive at Walter Reed on July 8, the same day Monte arrived from a military hospital in Germany.
"It felt like my heart broke for a second," Shafer said, recalling how she was shaken by the first look at the tubes and IV lines attached to her brother's body. "I was still in my head trying to tell myself it wasn't real."
By last weekend, Shafer said, he was back to being the beloved older brother she had grown up with.