The Other Walter Reed
The Washington Post has put the next installment of its investigative reporting on The Other Walter Reed online in The Hotel Aftermath: Inside Mologne House, the Survivors of War Wrestle With Military Bureaucracy and Personal Demons. Here's a taste of the must-read article:
The hotel is built in the Georgian revival style, and inside it offers the usual amenities: daily maid service, front-desk clerks in formal vests and a bar off the lobby that opens every afternoon.
But at this bar, the soldier who orders a vodka tonic one night says to the bartender, "If I had two hands, I'd order two." The customers sitting around the tables are missing limbs, their ears are melted off, and their faces are tattooed purple by shrapnel patterns.
Most everyone has a story about the day they blew up: the sucking silence before immolation, how the mouth filled with tar, the lungs with gas.
"First thing I said was, 'F---, that was my good eye,' " a soldier with an eye patch tells an amputee in the bar.
The amputee peels his beer label. "I was awake through the whole thing," he says. "It was my first patrol. The second f------ day in Iraq and I get blown up."
When a smooth-cheeked soldier with no legs orders a fried chicken dinner and two bottles of grape soda to go, a kitchen worker comes out to his wheelchair and gently places the Styrofoam container on his lap.
A scrawny young soldier sits alone in his wheelchair at a nearby table, his eyes closed and his chin dropped to his chest, an empty Corona bottle in front of him.
Those who aren't old enough to buy a drink at the bar huddle outside near a magnolia tree and smoke cigarettes. Wearing hoodies and furry bedroom slippers, they look like kids at summer camp who've crept out of their rooms, except some have empty pants legs or limbs pinned by medieval-looking hardware. . . .
Bryan Anderson is out here one Friday. "Hey, Bry, what time should we leave in the morning?" asks his best friend, a female soldier also injured in Iraq. The next day is Veterans Day, and Bryan wants to go to Arlington National Cemetery. His pal Gary Sinise will be there, and Bryan wants to give him a signed photo.
Thousands of spectators are already at Arlington the next morning when Bryan and his friend join the surge toward the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The sunshine dazzles. Bryan is in his wheelchair. If loss and sacrifice are theoretical to some on this day, here is living proof -- three stumps and a crooked boyish smile. Even the acres of tombstones can't compete. Spectators cut their eyes toward him and look away.
Suddenly, the thunder of cannons shakes the sky. The last time Bryan heard this sound, his legs were severed and he was nearly bleeding to death in a fiery Humvee.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Bryan pushes his wheelchair harder, trying to get away from the noise. "Damn it," he says, "when are they gonna stop?"
Bryan's friend walks off by herself and holds her head. The cannon thunder has unglued her, too, and she is crying.
Though the stories of the soldiers we know who have returned from the wars are not as extreme as those told by the Washington Post, the anguish is no less real.
DM & E Scorecard update
After last week's flurry of proposed legislation aimed at bolstering congressional oversight of large transportation loans, the Minnesota Monitor/Vox Verax has updated its DM & E scorecard.