They have been married since 1993. Mr. Bowlsbey now works as an information technology consultant.
Though Ms. Duckworth moved to Illinois to pursue a doctorate, she went through flight school and entered the Illinois National Guard in 1996.
Before her deployment eight years later, Ms. Duckworth had been working at Rotary International, helping to manage offices in its Asia-Pacific region. When the Guard sought out commissioned officers for a mission to Iraq, she volunteered, arriving in March 2004. (Ms. Duckworth has said she always believed the Bush administration “started this war for themselves,” but as a soldier, “you keep your personal opinions to yourself.”)
Ms. Duckworth spent much of her time there inside an operations center, coordinating missions. She flew herself about twice a week.
Her last waking day in Iraq, Nov. 12, 2004, began unremarkably. Ms. Duckworth’s crew was conducting “taxi service,” in her telling: shuttling people and supplies, with a stop at a base in Baghdad to acquire Christmas ornaments.
She had been at the controls all day. A colleague, Dan Milberg, playfully called her a “stick pig,” requesting to take the lead on a final flight. She obliged.
They were about 10 minutes from their destination when an explosion scorched through the right side of the cockpit, where Ms. Duckworth sat:
A rocket-propelled grenade. A fireball blast at her lower body.
She does not remember feeling pain immediately. She does remember the black smoke — and an aircraft suddenly impervious to her prompts. By this point, Ms. Duckworth learned later, she had no feet.
Mr. Milberg was able to land on a plot of open woods. Ms. Duckworth, on the cusp of losing consciousness, has retained a snapshot from the haze of her rescue: a cluster of tall grass poking through the base of the Black Hawk. She wondered how it had gotten there.