When you are the son of a guy who runs a sawmill in rural western York County - and your grandfather and great-grandfather that ran that mill - you grow up tough and hard-nosed.
You put a drill bit through your hand, you don't go to the doctor until the next day because it is just a hole through your hand, and it can wait.
You fight sometimes with fists, and the other guy, when he looks for his teeth, wishes you didn't.
You use coarse language around men who work shirtless in the summer heat, pulling trees from the forest and running them through a saw blade as big as a truck tire.
You talk nice in front of your momma, and you treat her like a queen.
And when you are 24 and brawny and restless with sawing logs and hauling them on a skidder through brush, and that American flag flying outside your house is more than cloth, you join the Marines in late 2009 because they are the toughest of the tough.
And if your buddy is throwing up doing pushups in basic training at hot Parris Island, you get down there and do the pushups with him and count for him - and the rest of the unit joins you because if they don't, they will be dealing with you who cut logs before the Marines.
You get to Afghanistan in February 2011 and two days later, you get attacked, and you do what you are trained to do - even if you are raised in a Christian home - because you are Lance Cpl. Chris Propst, with a tattoo of your dog tags burned into your side.
Then you tell your worried momma on a phone call a couple days later all you can: "Momma, I got him before he got me."
Then you do it all over again, and again, and again, because your job is sniper with machine gun, and what you are trained to do is one thing: Kill in war.
And later, when you call your momma's cell phone from Afghanistan late in the afternoon on May 15, you say, "Hey momma, I'm OK. I'm in the hospital, but I am OK."
The phone went dead that day and Shari Propst cried out and ran for her husband, Jamie. The phone rang again, thankfully, a few minutes later as the parents shook with anguish.
"Momma, I got some shrapnel, but Smith is hurt worse, and Hanley..." is what Shari Propst heard. Smith and Hanley had eaten steaks and sweet potatoes at her house. They were not just names.
The phone cut out again, and Shari Propst looked at the phone and wanted it to ring more than she cared about anything else in her life.
A ring came after a while, and she heard, "Hanley's gonna be OK. Call his momma. I want to send you an elephant ear."
The phone went dead for good. Connections from Afghanistan are not always the best.
Yet the words "elephant ear" sounded like the gong of a drum, echoing.
"Elephant ear" is secret code between tough Chris Propst in a field hospital in Helmand province, and Shari Propst, his mother.
Marines can't always say, "I love you, Momma," over the phone when there are guys in a hospital fighting for their lives just feet away. So "elephant ear" meant Chris loved his momma and she knew it.
"My son is hardcore, a Marine to his bones," said Shari Propst. "And considerate and loving, too."
The father, Jamie Propst Sr., talks the talk of a guy who runs a sawmill.
"All the boys Chris is with are tough," he said. "My son is tough. You have to be tough to fight, infantry, in that war over there. No room for anything less."
What happened to Chris Propst is sure tough.
In a May 15 firefight, several Marines were wounded an ambush of the 2nd Marines 3rd Battalion Charlie Company north of somewhere called Sangin in southern Afghanistan - a place more than one fighting man has called the closest thing to hell they hope to ever see.
The group had just landed to set up a forward operating base.
The regular-guy translation for "forward operating base" is a place in the middle of nowhere, where the enemy knows you are because there is nothing else there but fields of opium and sand and Taliban fighters with machine guns and bombs who want to kill Americans.
Any mother of a Marine sees the words "forward operating base" in the news, and she covers her eyes and gasps. And now, Shari Propst is hearing this from her wounded son.
"Every mother was in the same position; they got a call just like I did," Propst said. "That's what wars are. Prayers and hoping and calls about your son getting wounded on the other side of the world."
The Marines were barely on the ground when the mortars and grenades came raining down on them.
Propst, one of those wounded Marines, who fires a machine gun that shoots shells as big as a cigar, dragged a buddy to safety without a single thought or order. Propst just hauled the guy through the firefight.
Only afterward did another Marine say, "Dude, you're bleeding through your camos."
It turned out that Propst had shrapnel the size of a stick of butter in his left leg, in the meaty part near the femur. A trio of his buddies were wounded even more severely.
It turned out that the mission was one that a couple of journalists had tagged along on to document how medics serve in combat.
An Associated Press photographer snapped photos of Propst being helped through the dust and sand to a medevac helicopter, then getting medical treatment.
The whole world, through the wonder of the Internet, has seen Chris Propst, from a gravel road outside York past the family sawmill, taken out of battle and getting medical attention.
Yet after the firefight, Propst's sole concern was the guys he served with. Guys named Andrew Smith and Jerome Hanley. Guys Chris Propst cares about more than himself.
"His only concern was the guys and making sure their families, their mothers, knew they would survive," Shari Propst said. "He asked me to call them."
And that is what that mother of a Marine did. She shared bittersweet distress over injuries and relief the guys would live with those other mothers.
Through the social networking website Facebook, Shari Propst and others have been able to follow Chris' recovery since the attack.
Word has gotten around York and Clover, and gifts of beef jerky and protein bars and baseballs and gloves for the unit, and more stuff, has come in to Shari's home and job.
Yet Chris - a former ballplayer at York Comprehensive High, so that's why people are sending baseballs and gloves - is so tough he posted this just two days after his injury:
"hey mom love you. Leg hurts but doing better. Still have everything lol. sore today. Jerome flew to Germany last night. his leg is broke they think. We both got our purple hearts tho lol. Love you call you soon"
Two surgeries later, he is missing a chunk of flesh out his leg the size of a fist. He hasn't complained once.
But Chris Propst, who writes on Facebook that he dreams of those late night runs to the river with his buddies with a cooler filled with tin cans - and you can bet those cans will not contain Pepsi - will not leave Afghanistan and his unit.
"He said that until his unit leaves, he is not leaving," said his father. "That's my son. They stay, he stays."
That means Shari Propst, the mother, will barely sleep until September, when Chris Propst is supposed to come home along with the whole unit.
"I was not happy that he decided to stay and go back into the middle of it, but that is who he is," Shari Propst said.
On Memorial Day, Chris Propst wrote how he salutes fallen soldiers. He wrote it from a hospital bed after having part of his leg cut away.
In about two weeks, Chris Propst, minus some meat in his leg, is scheduled to go back to his unit and the front lines of Afghanistan - machine guns and the threat of bombs and injury and maybe death.
That is what Marines - and the sons of sawmill families from York County - do.
Want to help?
U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Chris Propst of York shares all packages with the men of his unit. To donate or help with the cost of postage, send items to Shari and Jamie Propst, 617 S. Beersheba Road, Clover, S.C. 29710, or to the York Electric Cooperative Offices, 1385 Alexander Love Highway, York.
To see more photos, visit heraldonline.com.