My little brother was crying. He was hiding behind Mom’s leg and she was holding the baby as we made our way down that long dreary hallway. Mom held his hand and he held mine and our tight little unit weaved in and out of wheelchairs, down the avocado cement block corridor. I was oldest so I tried to be brave.
The long bleak hallway was packed with men, mostly young men. The walls, especially, were lined with them--some sitting in wheelchairs, others lying on gurneys. They were just parked along this hallway for no reason in particular that I could tell. All of them--alone. Not a single one had a visitor. Our little troop were the only “un-enlisted personnel” that I remember seeing at all there.
It was 1970 and we were visiting my father at Bethesda Naval Hospital. I visited him there two times before he died.
I have never forgotten walking down those halls, though I didn’t think of it much until here recently.
There was this heavy, palpable weight of human suffering that hung in the air so thick it was hard to breathe. You almost could not pull it through your nostrils. Anger. Despair. Grief. Wretchedness hung in the air. Suffering and sacrifice boiled in my lungs.
I’ve been remembering that walk, that hall, a lot recently. For some reason I can’t get it out of my mind. All those boys, some of them their eyes so empty, and others so full of rage and pain. Many of them hooked up to tubes and wires, looking so much older than they probably were. They visit me in my dreams lately. I’m having trouble sleeping.
I remember one boy in particular. He was in a wheelchair and his whole bottom half was gone—not just his legs, everything. I don’t know how he was even sitting up. I remember wondering how he went to the bathroom when my mom suddenly gave my shoulder a ferocious shake and hissed, “Don’t stare!”
I dropped my eyes. I wanted to hide behind my own eyelids. I didn’t want to see him seeing me see him. I didn’t want to be seen either. I didn’t want my whole complete eight-year-old self to be seen by these boy/men who were missing pieces. It felt like taunting and made me feel guilty.
I remember that resentment roiled off of some of them. It didn’t feel directed at me but it still scared me. It felt like barely contained fury. It felt dangerous.
And I remember one poor young man, one poor, sweet Boy, (and this is the man that I still cry about. This is the instant that is seared into my psyche, singeing me with almost crystal clarity to this day) who tried to be nice to me…who tried to speak to me…who told me I was a “pretty little girl”. But I could not look at him or speak back. His face was so messed up. I am still ashamed of that. I wish I’d done different for that poor man.
Lately I’ve been hearing about Americans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans who’ve been gravely injured, and I think of those boys, the ones filed in that hallway like broken pencils stuffed in a drawer.
I am hearing stories about this new batch of wounded, left waiting for weeks and even months at places like the Fort Stewart military base in Georgia, waiting untreated for proper medical help. They’ve received little more than basic triage.
I hear the walls at Fort Stewart are white instead of avocado.
I hear injured Reservists and National Guard soldiers are receiving the worst treatment. At Fort Stewart, they wait for months, some with horrific injuries, in hot concrete barracks with no air-conditioning or running water.
The press barely mentions these casualties. No one discusses the severity of these wounds.
Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, complained in September 2003 that he was unable to find out how many US soldiers had been wounded in Iraq because the administration refused to release this information. Last December, Congressman Gene Taylor (D. Mississippi) complained that the Pentagon deliberately undercounted combat casualties. He cited the case of five members of the Mississippi National Guard who had been wounded in a booby-trap bomb explosion. Incredibly, their injuries were listed by the military as "non combat." The truth emerged only because Taylor spoke face to face with the most seriously injured of the five at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and then sent a memo to other members of Congress to ask “if anyone has had a similar incident."
The media only reports on those killed in action. Few Americans have any idea of the shockingly large number of US soldiers wounded in Iraq. We now know that the actual estimates of US soldiers, sailors and Marines medically evacuated from Iraq by the end of 2003 because of battlefield wounds, illness or other battlefield reasons is between 11,000 and 22,000.
That was at the end of 2003.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (Rep.-Nebraska), a Vietnam veteran and former deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration, petitioned Donald Rumsfeld for the "total number of American battlefield casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq". He asked these questions: "What is the official Pentagon definition of “wounded in action”? “What is the procedure for releasing this information in a timely way to the public?” and “What is the criteria for awarding a Purple Heart?” [Purple Hearts are awarded to those wounded in combat or to the next of kin of those killed or who died later from wounds received in action.] Hagel was seeking an accurate count of Purple Hearts and the dates they were awarded. The number is significant because it is an official record of the total number of battlefield casualties. After six weeks, Hagel received this reply, "The Department of Defense does not have the requested information."
2004 has seen escalating violence and death. Since May, the number of soldiers killed in action has increased every month over the month before. How many soldiers are injured for every one who dies? How many file drawers do we have where we can hide these poor mangled bodies and minds?
And what about the ones for whom we don’t think we need drawers? The ones like John Allen Muhammad, the sniper killer from Washington, DC? Muhammad was a special forces soldier in the first Iraq war. By all accounts he was a loving husband and father and a community leader--before he went to Iraq. Muhammad came back from Iraq full of anger and violence. He was a different man. He was a killer.
Unfortunately the issue of emotional or psychological disorders has also received almost no public attention, though it is very much on the minds of the medical community. One publication, created for clinics that will be treating returning Iraq war veterans, states, "Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of many different ways a veteran can manifest chronic post-war adjustment difficulties. Veterans are also at risk for depression, substance abuse, aggressive behavior problems, and the spectrum of severe mental illnesses precipitated by the stress of war."
Depression. Aggression. That was what I was feeling when I walked into Bethesda Naval Hospital back in 1970. Plus a heaping helping of fear and guilt and shame—not at what they’d been forced to do in times of war (at least not all of it) but at their feeling that they had “let the Army down.”
Oct. 14, 2004 -- Following inquiries by ABC News, the Pentagon has dropped plans to force a severely wounded U.S. soldier to repay his enlistment bonus after injuries had forced him out of the service.
Army Spc. Tyson Johnson III of Mobile, Ala., who lost a kidney in a mortar attack last year in Iraq, was still recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when he received notice from the Pentagon's own collection agency that he owed more than $2,700 because he could not fulfill his full 36-month tour of duty.
Johnson said the Pentagon listed the bonus on his credit report as an unpaid government loan, making it impossible for him to rent an apartment or obtain credit cards.
My father is a Veteran. He fought in the Vietnam War and thought that there should not have been one. He thought, why fight for one side of Vietnam when both sides don't like you. Anyway, he got a purple heart for saving 6 men's lives and getting wounded doing so. He told the government they could shove the purple heart up their ass and would not accept it. He did not think that it was worth seeing his best friend die who he did not get to save. While growing up as a daughter in my fathers house I have heard many war stories about vietnam. He is suffering from depression because of it. He can not sleep at night. He stays up watching tv. When I was living with him I would always worry about him. I could not sleep either. I still sometimes go over to check up on him to see if he is sleeping peacefully. I am so annoyed that many people do no acknowledge veterans day. I always work on that day because the company I work for do not acknowledge the veterans. Instead they recognize Presidents day. Why not celebrate the people who send the veterans to war and forget about the many lives killed. That is what my company believes and that is what I totally disagree with. I live every day of the week worrying about my father whom is one of the greatest men to live in my heart. I think he an many other injured service men as well as healthy service men should be recognize for everything they do.
In Vietnam, we lost 1000 men per week at times. We have lost a little over 1100 in Iraq.
These people know what they are volunteering for when they enlist. I'm not sure I get how the army is letting them down. Do you propose that they make the soldiers bulletproof? I know several Iraq war veterans, including one of my very closest friends who received a purple heart after a road-side bomb went off next to his humvee. A piece of shrapnel was blown through the side of his face. He receieved excellent medical treatment as a member of the 94th military police company out of Saco, Maine.
When thinking about Vietnam, I am sure that there were many soliders who did not wish to serve, but they could not help it because they were drafted. Perhaps the democrats should stop trying to bring back the draft so this doesn't happen again.
The war in Iraq is not a "good" thing by any means. Any war, just or unjust, should probably not be considered good; its a war and people die. However, some wars are necessary, and while it is my opinion that this war in necessary I feel that it could have been fought smarter and more efficiently, which could have saved many of our soldiers lives.
I don't know how many people died in Vietnam but current estimates of deaths in Iraq are 1,500 Americans and over 100,000 Iraqis. No pea shooter can kill that many people and it's wrong to minimize the devastation resulting from this war that way.
My brother, also, is in the military. He just returned from Iraq after 10 months. One of his jobs was shipping bodies home. He also arranged transport for the injured and mentally incapacitated. Our military, our country, is letting those folks down by warehousing them in buildings that aren't even dormitories, buildings with no heat or ac or running water, and leaving them warehoused there for months without treatment. And reservists get worse treatment than regular enlisted personnel. Does the fact that they are reservists mean that they treasured that arm or leg any less than an enlisted man? I don't think so.
Our enlisted personnel entrust their lives, their mental health, their relationships and their futures to our government. They do so because they care about our country. They do so because they see their service as an extension of the love they have for their families into a love that they have for the community at large. They offer their lives to protect us. And in return, they ask for very few things ... but they're big things. And we owe them those things. We owe them the absolute promise that we will ONLY send them into harm's way when it is absolutely essential. We owe them the security of knowing that if they are injured they will be treated quickly and well and will receive whatever continuing care they need their whole lives long. And if they are killed, we owe them the comfort of knowing that their families will be cared for.
Our country is letting them down because we are not giving them those things.
This article appeared in an issue of the Thomas College Newspaper...
For those of you who do not know, a true hero lives amongst us at Thomas College. Student Justin Titcomb, of Wells, Maine, just recently returned from fifteen months as an Army Specialist in Iraq. Justin served with the 94th Military Police Unit, Detachment #1, based in Saco, Maine. He completed his freshman year at Thomas during the 2001/2002 school year. During the following summer, just before his sophomore year began, Justin got word that his unit was going to be deployed in Iraq. He was willing to put his education on hold and answer the call to defend and protect our country.
Justin returns this year to Thomas as a sophomore, while many of his former classmates are now seniors. I had the privilege to know Justin as a friend before he was deployed and was very glad to see him return to Thomas safely.
Justin’s first six months in Iraq were spent in the city of Rutba. His military police unit was responsible for escorting convoys containing fuel and supplies to the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. Justin’s primary role was as a gunner on the top of a military hummer, manning the .50 caliber gun. It was a scary position to be on the top of a vehicle in the middle of a city with no cover, but Justin heroically pushed fear aside and performed his duties.
Justin recalls the time that a roadside bomb exploded near his convoy. “I remember hearing an extremely loud explosion and I knew that it had to have been a roadside bomb planted by some of the insurgents.” It was during this explosion that Justin was wounded by flying shrapnel. A flying piece of metal went straight through his right cheek, just missing his temple. It was for this incident that Justin was awarded the Purple Heart.
Another duty that Justin performed was checking in on the local residents of Rutba to see if they were ok and if they needed any assistance. Justin recalls, “The Iraqis in Rutba invited us to dinner many times, serving us Iraqi meals consisting of rice, chicken, and lamb.” He says that the majority of the civilians were very friendly towards the U.S. troops. Iraqi natives that could speak English acted as translators so that the soldiers in Justin’s unit could speak and interact with the Iraqi civilians.
These translators would give Justin and his fellow soldiers feedback from the civilian population, including how the natives felt about the U.S. occupation and the conflict in general. “Most of the Iraqi people gave us positive feedback, Justin explains. “Many of them did not want to be occupied, but they understood what we were doing and they were grateful for that.” Justin built strong friendships with the translators and many of them keep in touch with him via email today.
Justin pointed out that most of the violence toward the U.S. troops came from the insurgents and militia members—not from the general civilian population. While Iraq is not the safest place in the world, Justin observed that the majority of the Iraqi people had a positive view of U.S. forces. Those who violently opposed the occupation would often destroy civilian buildings and kill innocent Iraqis by accident while they were trying to target U.S. troops. Justin elaborates, “Some Iraqi civilians got mad because the insurgents often times caused more destruction and violence than the coalition forces.”
After serving in Rutba, Justin’s unit was dispatched to Ramadi, where they conducted highway patrols and established an Iraqi Police Academy to train new Iraqi police officers. Justin had the unique privilege of teaching at the academy, helping Iraqi cadets learn self-defense and weapons skills. During his time at the academy, Justin says that over 6000 Iraqi cadets graduated. Justin recalls, “It was a great experience teaching at the academy because we got to see a lot of Iraqis who really wanted to make a difference in their country.” Justin also pointed out that many critics of the war in Iraq claim that the U.S. is not training enough Iraqi troops. “The academy that I worked at trained over 6000 cadets alone and that is only one academy out of many, so people who claim that we aren’t training troops are wrong. Training is happening in Iraq and the soldiers are doing the best job that they can.”
When Justin and his comrades first arrived in Iraq, they were eager to watch the U.S. news channels in order to find out what was going on in the rest of the country as well as at home. However, Justin says that he—along with the majority of the troops in his unit—was very disappointed with the coverage that the war was getting. “The only thing that most of the U.S. news channels were good for was to find out what bad things were happening around us in Iraq,” Justin explains. “They never covered events like how many people we graduated from the Iraqi police academy, the strong relationships that we made with the Iraqi people, or the schools that the U.S. troops were building for the Iraqi children.”
Justin says that CNN and MSNBC were by far the worst, and that they blew the situation in Iraq way out of proportion. “It got to the point where my friends and I couldn’t even watch the news because it was getting too critical of what we were trying to accomplish. The war coverage on CNN and MSNBC was too depressing to watch and it hurt the morale of the soldiers.”
However, not all of the U.S. news stations exaggerated the negative aspects of the conflict. “No news channel will be absolutely fair, but FOX news came the closest to being balanced. FOX was the only network that actually pointed out any of the good things that we were doing. All other networks, like CNN, focused only on the negative things.” Unfortunately, according to Justin, FOX was rarely available on the satellite and local broadcasts that the troops were able to receive.
Justin’s time in Iraq was extended shortly before he was scheduled to return home. He was assigned to help escort more convoys—this time on a route that took Justin straight through the heart of Baghdad. “Many times the insurgents would attack our unit with mortars and small arms fire, and then they would retreat to schools and Mosques because they knew that we would not fire on those types of places.”
Justin rejoins the Thomas community as a hero and someone that I respect enormously.
If you happen to see Justin around campus, take a moment to thank him for his service to our country. Because of men like Justin Titcomb, we are all able to enjoy our freedoms and liberties in this great nation that we call home.
The media does not have injured soldiers warehoused at Fort Benning Georgia. The military does.
The media has not suggested cutting soldiers pay. The military and the Bush administration are.
The media has not denied the country access to information about the number of casualties returning from Iraq. The military has.
Jason, I'm not trying to be rude here but this is another example of introducing a defamatory piece and expecting it to fly as information.
Do I doubt that people in the military believe in what they're doing and feel the media is not giving them a fair shake? No. I don't doubt that at all. No one is more brainwashed than the military. Poor guys have no choice. My brother tells me that on the ships and in the bases in Iraq, regular television is interspersed with propaganda messages about how good the war is going instead of commercials. Plus look at what they have vested. It's no wonder they want to believe. I would too.
But the stories of these returning vets will not be quashed. It will come out. The day is not too far in the future when we'll be seeing these folks on the streets. I work with the homeless and already we are seeing their ranks swell with returning war vets. Reports of delayed stress syndrome in the veteran's groups are on the rise in a way it hasn't been since Vietnam.
Don't fool yourself. The media did not cause this. That's just another slight of hand switcheroo to keep from placing the blame exactly where it belongs.
That's hilariious Jason, you're priceless. To quote a newspaper and then to turn around and say it's all the newspapers' faults - that's brilliant! The irony! I love it. I only wish the underlying issues weren't so sobering.
I didn't quote a newspaper. I quoted myself; I wrote that article. Perhaps you didn't read the copyright...
Carolyn, Justin told me that he and his fellow soldiers could only get two channels on the satellite in Iraq--CNN and MSNBC. Nothing was being supervised or interfered with. You can't discount the story of a real soldier who served in Iraq simply because you don't agree with it.
And Clint, in case you didn't notice, Justin was saying how the media was not accurately reporting what is going on in Iraq. I posted something I wrote, because it is the personal account of a soldier saying how the media is making the war out to be worse than it is. You know what they say about assumptions....
Carolyn, is not a defamatory piece; again it is the account of a soldier who actually served in Iraq--a purple heart recipient. I interviewed him for that piece. That's sad that you label a hero's story as "defamatory". I think that an interview with a soldier should be considered factual information...
I find it funny that people here are just willing to believe that crap about the military killing over 100,000 civilians. If anyone read the report correctly, you would have noticed that it said it wasn't 100% right. Some of these hospitals list the fighters as civilians because before they get there their friends dtrip them of their weapons, second, the terrorists give false reports of how many people were actually. Third, has anyone ever gone out and seen how many civilians, that were caught in a crossfire, were hit by AK-47 rounds as opposed to US rounds? Nope. How might I know all this you ask? I was there for 15 months! It's always so much easier to be a critic then to actually go out and experiance something. A poll recently conducted of service member serving over seas says that most of the soldiers believe in what we are doing, and believe we did the right thing. Saddam did have WMD's, he also had the intention to make more and use them. And lets not forget the humanitarian factor, like in Bosnia.....nobody complained when we went into Bosnia, I have seen kids who are 15 years old who have never owned a pair of shoes. Kids that have to skip and hop over rivers of raw sewage to and from school because it spils out over onto the road....from the ditch that serves as a sewer. These people lived in some of the worst, most inhumane conditions ever, while Saddam lived in his huge palaces, much more extravagant the some of these very expensive celebrity hotels you read about. You guys should really talk to those who have been there rather then base all your facts from the news. The news never has any stories about the good things we're doing over there. The only channel I've found somewhat close would be Fox, but you still don't understand whats going on, only how many died, etc.. Before you go criticising everything me and my fellow soldiers are doing there, step back and think to youself "have I been there"? "Have I seen what it's like there, or experianced it"? If the answere is "no" then you might want to take a step back, get some input from a "credible" source, and then re-think your whole train of thought about the subject.
I didn't criticize you or other American soldiers. Please do not put words in my mouth. Freedom of speech does not give you the right to speak for me. Re-read my words.
Maybe you didn't see people getting killed in Iraq -- I don't know where you were stationed -- but I am taking the word of my brother, another soldier, who was in Iraq for 10 months and who is preparing to go back again. HE tells me something quite different than what you're telling me -- and his info comes from his own eyes, not Fox Entertainment/News (which, by the way, hired Mark Hyman just to find and report those "happy stories" you speak of. It's part of their strategy for selling the war. Being a good Fox toady, he's trying hard to find such stories but he's failing because it's bogus and they recently had to pull him out of there too. Those reports are propaganda. He can say what he wants but every other account from the region, including those of soldiers, tells us a different story.)
One of my brother's jobs is shipping American bodies (or remains) home for burial so I'd say he has a pretty good idea what the hell is going on there.
That said, uh, we found weapons of mass destruction? Wow! That's news! What? Where? When? Or are you referring to that building full of explosives that we left unguarded so that we could go guard the oil fields -- those explosives that are now being used to kill our own soldiers.
But WMD's are not the point. The point is that our governemnt, our military, is not caring for our returning, injured soldiers. They are using them up and tossing them out like old shoes. They are hiding them from the American people.
I hope that you AND my brother come home safely. I don't want you to end up being old shoes also. I want you home safe.
And I hope you will understand that fighting for your comrades may mean more than fighting Iraqis. What if it was one of your friends there at Fort Benning?
I, personally, intend to fight for the unfortunate Americans who are being ignored by our military and hidden away so that people will continue to support this ridiculous war.
I know it must be hard for you to hear this. I know it must be hard to be so vested in something so pointless. I can't even imagine the frustration of that and I ache for you. Know that I feel frustrated too. I feel frustrated that people would argue that this treatment of our soldiers by the richest country in the world is in any way justified. It tells you how brainwashed everybody is. I just want all of you home and safe. I want the people of Iraq to be able to rebuild from what we've done to them.
The real numbers of Iraqi dead will come out eventually. The World Health Orgnanization is only one of the places estimating Iraqi casualities at over 100,000 so don't get too married to your opposition to that number -- the truth IS going to come out, just as it did after Vietnam.
And the truth will come out about our treatment of our own casualties as well. Hell, it's already coming out.
Jason, "This article appeared in an issue of the Thomas College Newspaper..." Sound familiar? It should, you wrote it. So yeah, I guess I made an assumption based on the very … first … thing … you said. Slap me silly and call me a duck. This is what bugs me about imprecision and faulty logic. According to you, let's see, what’s someone to do when a post explicitly states that it appeared in a newspaper... oh yes, I remember: NOT assume that it's a quotation from a newspaper, right Jason? I suppose a taste for ironic humor takes a while to develop, but you're doing a great job at creating it... again. Keep it up man, I’m lovin’ it.
By the way, yes, I did notice the copyright. I am trained to note legally significant details like that. Did you, by the way, check with the newspaper's submission policy before you republished the piece on our website? Just wondering... I would have. You know what they say about assumptions. I'd hate to have you get in trouble for violating what effectively amounts to a contract concerning publication rights that would preempt the republication, electronic or otherwise, of the piece by the author or copyright holder.
Justin, I assume (sorry Jason, I guess it’s a habit) that you’re the Justin the article’s about. Thanks for sharing your opinion and experiences with us. I appreciate it, and I’m glad Jason turned you on to this site. I have a cousin that’s an engineer in the US Army in Iraq helping to rebuild some of the bombed out buildings and such, so I’ve had some exposure to the good things that Americans are doing over there. I’m sure the US is appreciated by many Iraqis, however, there is always the inescapable conclusion that were it not for the US, Iraq would not be bombed out, and it wouldn’t be as poor because it wouldn’t have been subject to sanctions… etc etc.
It reminds me of something Chris Rock said in his comedy act, I’m paraphrasing: It really pisses me off when people do something they’re supposed to do and then act all proud about it. Like a father saying “I take care of my kids.” You’re SUPPOSED to take care of your kids you dumb fuck…
Then there’s the capitalist's credo: You break it you buy it.
Anyway, I hope you recover completely.
Before I start, let me make this clear. The following post was written by me, Jason Greene.
That article I posted earlier did appear in a newspaper, just as I said. I put a copyright at the bottom. Don't blame me because you didn't realize that I wrote it I do admit, however, that I could have put that it was written by me at the beginning to ease confusion and elminiate assumption.
Carolyn, the article I posted describes where Justin was stationed in Iraq and what his duties were.
I brought Justin to this board because even an interview with him (a soldier who served in Iraq) was labeled as a "defamatory piece" and should not be expected to "fly as information". If an interview with a soldier is considered to be those things, then I figured that the last option was to bring him here. Hopefully everyone values his insights, respects his comments, and doesn't label his words as not being real information.
As for the newspapers submission policy, the article was an OP/ED piece that I sumbitted on my own free will. In addition, I also work for the newspaper and no such contract exists. I am on the newspaper staff which helps to organize the paper and I often submit editorials that I write to the editor, just like any citizen would for any regular newspaper. It is run totally by students; the administration simply allows us to print it and distribute it. And before anyone labels it as a "conservative paper", the editor (a good friend of mine) is a staunch democrat and often writes articles designed to provide an opposing view to mine. He also puts anti-Bush policial cartoons throughout the paper.
Clint, I am trying not to take repeated, sarcastic insults at my intelligence personal, considering our friendly past.
Carolyn, perhaps you should speak in-depth with Justin. I've heard many of his stories and they may make you realize that what does on in Iraq is not the same as what the mass media tells you it is. You are right; the truth is coming out--just listen to Justin.