We are not earning our soldiers’ sacrifices

Terry Garlock's picture

On a mid-August Fox News Sunday TV program, Chris Wallace ended the show with a piece on a rehab center where our war casualties learn how to adapt to life with stark physical changes. Wallace didn’t find what he expected and he was clearly moved by the experience.

He spoke to several wounded troops on camera at the Walter Reed rehab center as they struggled to learn how to walk with an artificial leg, or how to work the devices on their mechanical hand, or learned to dress and find their way without sight. The consistent attitude he found was optimism, hope, with none of the bitterness one might expect under the circumstances. You could almost hear the question in his head, “Where do we get such fine young people?”

Chris Wallace learned the same lesson I learned in a war casualty hospital long ago. My helicopter gunship had been shot down in Vietnam in 1969, my back broken in compression fractures.

After a few weeks of stabilization in a Vietnam hospital, I was flown on a hospital C-141 aircraft to Japan, still immobile on a cot since movement would jeopardize my spinal cord. I remember having a rough spot on the flight, but it was too soon for a pain shot, and one of the nurses sat with me for a few minutes to hold my hand just for comfort.

The day I arrived in the Japan hospital ward, I slipped into a funk, feeling sorry for myself because I had hoped to be home for Christmas and I would miss it. I was tired of being immobile, sick and tired of constant pain, weary of trying to poop in a bedpan when the nerves to my bowels were just re-awakening. As I started to wallow in self-pity I was startled when I heard Jim scream for the very first time. During my stay in Japan I would learn from him an important lesson about small stuff.

After a pause Jim screamed again, and a young guy with no legs below the knees zipped past me in a wheelchair yelling “Hang on, Jim, I’m coming,” and that’s how I knew his name.

The nurses were showing a John Wayne movie projected on the wall, but pretty soon Jim’s screams drowned out a lot of the dialogue. Nobody in the hospital ward complained.

I asked a nurse about the guy screaming. She told me his back was ripped to shreds by a grenade, and when they changed the dressing on his wound, or when his pain medication wore off before they were permitted to give him more, he hurt so bad he couldn’t help but scream.

I heard guys talking to Jim, many from other beds so they had to shout. “Go ahead and scream, Jim.” “Give ‘em hell, Jim.” “Dammit, nurse, can’t you give Jim more of that magic needle?”

One of the resident hustlers in the ward hobbled by on crutches yelling, “Hey, Jim, I got the cards right here, you want to get some of your money back?” Others tried to distract him from his pain by asking questions like, “Jim, where you from, Chicago?”

All around me young men, black and white and Hispanic and Asian, officers and enlisted men, missing limbs or eyes, with all manner of injury received in violence, set aside their own problems as small stuff and joined together to help one of their stranger-brothers get through an unbearable time.

In a little while Jim had his pain shot and he slept for a while. He went through this about five times a day.

I had a conversation with myself in my head about counting my blessings, about not being a damn fool and about the small stuff in life. I was hurt and bored and wanted to go home, but I’d get through it. My paralyzed legs were working now after surgery! I was among the lucky ones.

Since that day over 35 years ago, when I see someone frantic over the small things that dominate our life, I think about a guy named Jim who I never saw because I was stuck in a bed too far away from him, and the lesson I learned from him.

Too bad America has not learned the lesson of priorities, of the unwavering support due to our troops once we commit them to war.

What kind of people are we that we send these fine young people off to war and then encourage the enemy trying to kill them?

How is it that congressmen, senators, TV reporters and pundits encourage our enemy by publicly slamming our president and our part in the war, point the finger of blame at the Guantanamo detention center, and celebrate the latest setback as our courts grant the rights of our own constitution to the Islamic fascists plotting our destruction?

Are we in the Twilight Zone or is the New York Times actually publishing our war secrets as fast as they are uncovered? How much insult is added to the injury when the very people doing these things declare, “I support the troops!”

What kind of people are we that half of us cannot put hatred of George Bush on the back burner to present a unified front to our mortal enemy?

I am reminded of the scene in the movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” where a dying Capt. John Miller whispers to Pvt. Ryan, “Earn this.”

What he meant was good people had sacrificed for him, and he should repay them by living a good life. Are we earning the sacrifice of those in uniform doing our dirty work in harm’s way?

To our everlasting shame, I’m afraid the answer is a resounding, “No.”

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Basmati's picture
Submitted by Basmati on Thu, 09/07/2006 - 5:04am.

The Army has a state-of-the-art brain injury treatment program at Walter Reed hospital and at Fort Bragg NC.

The Iraq war has sent roughly 1,200 troops a year to Walter Reed with traumatic brain injuries. "Traumatic" in this case means a part of the soldier's skull was shot off, exposing the brain to the open air.

Additionally, there were about ten times as many "closed brain injuries", 12,000 troops had their brains injured from things like concussions from explosions.

The brain injury program had a budget of $14 million dollars last year.

The head of the program looked at his program's needs and asked for a budget of $17 million dollars for the upcoming year.

Last week, the Bush administration proposed cutting the program's budget to $7 million dollars. The Republican House and Senate agreed.

Brain Injury Budget Faces Cut

Tell me again how Republicans "support the troops"?

Submitted by bowser on Sat, 09/02/2006 - 10:17am.

It’s one thing to overlook the “small stuff” and be grateful for our larger blessings in life. Could not agree more. People who strive to overcome awful injuries – and help others do the same – are inspirations in that regard.

But it’s a non-sequitur to try to equate that with suspending critical thought and sacrificing our hard-earned right to a free press and open debate/dissent on profound national issues. Such as, whether deeper military involvement in the middle east is a smart and constructive policy.

As near as I can tell, in Garlock’s world, if your answer is ‘no’ you have no recourse except to keep your mouth shut. Is that what Capt. Miller earned for us?

Submitted by dopplerobserver on Wed, 08/30/2006 - 2:22pm.

What kind of idiot do you think it would take to not have respect for our soldiers who have been placed in harm's way? There are a few, of course, who think those guys over there should desert rather than fight, but mighty few. When we reach the point when we can't respect our soldier defenders, rightly or wrongly, and at the same time have absolutrely no further use for our President, then we will have failed as a nation. We have had enough of his debt creation, we have had enough of his disinterest in our poor's health and insurance, we have had enough of his failures to listen to his own advisors when he is wrong, and we certainly have had enough of his foreign diplomacy. It will take generations to cure the harm he personally has created. The average American citizen has borrowed up to the hilt to keep our economy going in his administration and is on the brink of failure. He publishes bad numbers to fool us: "no inflation," "5"% unemployment (nothing about under employment)and in reality only about 35% of our population over 16 works at all. And, the total collapse of the middle class (45,000 - 65.000).

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