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A dual tale of love and sacrifice

  • Soldierwedding.jpg

    U.S. Army soldier Ian Ralston and his wife Nicole Sanders were married on June 23, 2012. Ralston was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Iraq, leaving him a quadriplegic. (Rose Rottinghaus)

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    U.S. Army soldier Ian Ralston and Nicole Sanders will celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary in June. Ralston was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Iraq, leaving him a quadriplegic. (Rose Rottinghaus)

Nothing says spring like a good love story -- and nothing says love like the life shared by Ian Ralston and Nicole Sanders.

This June marks one year since the couple wed in an outdoor ceremony in Waterloo, Iowa -- a celebration that would have seemed impossible back when Ralston, a 27-year-old U.S. Army soldier, was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Iraq, leaving him a quadriplegic.

Sanders, wearing a vintage-looking gown, walked down the aisle to Frank Sinatra’s, “The Way You Look Tonight,” meeting her groom, wheelchair-bound and hooked up to a breathing tube, at an altar adorned with blue and cream hydrangeas.

"It was euphoric ... watching her come down the aisle," said Ralston, a former combat medic whose neck was struck by a ball bearing when an IED exploded underneath an over pass in Iraq in 2009.

“We went through a lot to get there,” he said. “It was very special.”

The June 23 ceremony, held at the Sunnyside Country Club, was officiated by Eric Lewis, an Army chaplain whom Ralston had befriended while in service.

Ralston, an Iowa native, met Sanders at an Irish pub in Tacoma, Wash., in January 2009 when he was stationed at Fort Lewis. The couple spoke about marriage before Ralston set off on his second deployment in Iraq eight months later.

Within three days of Ralston’s injury, Sanders was a constant presence at his bed at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington.

“She was there the whole time,” Ralston said. “And we just kept growing closer and closer.”

A wedding proposal came at an unlikely moment, recalled Sanders. The 25-year-old was packing the couple’s suitcase for a trip in March 2010 to Minneapolis VA Health Care System, a hospital that provides special care for U.S. veterans wounded in combat. Within one of the locked pockets of the large suitcase was a diamond engagement ring, which took Sanders four hours to find after she was tipped off by Ralston’s father, Stephen.

“She pretty much hit the floor when she found it and I asked if she would marry me,” Ian Ralston told FoxNews.com.

Last month, the Ralstons sent more than 100 “thank you” notes to friends and family members – including a few strangers – who bought out the couple’s entire registry at Crate & Barrel and Target.

Stephen Ralston, a groomsman in his son’s wedding, said despite the extraordinary challenge faced by the couple, their story of love is one that others would be lucky to find.

“She never wavered once,” he said of his daughter-in-law. “It was amazing to see such a young woman like that totally commit herself and do whatever was needed to help Ian – putting her own life aside.”

“You only do that if you love somebody with all your heart,” he said.

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