Every year, the United War Veterans Council sponsors a caravan of vets, volunteers, and donations to Walter Reed National Military Hospital, the Washington DC VA hospital, Fort Belvoir, and Fort Myer. They compile and collect donations from corporate and private sponsors, and for this particular Valentine's Day themed trip, they had elementary school children make construction paper valentines for our wounded soldiers and their families. I was honored to able to tag along.
When I was planning my trip to Walter Reed, I thought it would be an awesome experience, and I thought I knew what to expect. I really had no idea. Working in the news industry, there’s no shortage of statistics and information about what the last 10 years of war have been like for our economy, our politicians, and peripherally our soldiers. When you hear that over 2000 soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, 4000 in Iraq, and 33,000 wounded those are staggering statistics, but they’re also terribly abstract. Thirty minutes in Walter Reed removes any misconceptions or ignorance you might have been cloaked in.
That was probably the most overwhelming sentiment I came away with; our American people have no idea what these men have gone through and what they are continuing to go through. I know that because I work for a news company, and I was embarrassed that I had no idea. You think you do, but until you see it, you realize you couldn’t possibly have imagined it.
You walk the halls of Walter Reed, on your legs, under your own power, at your leisure. While doing that, it is impossible not to notice the innumerable men, and frankly some boys, all your age and younger, that have been badly maimed and injured on the battlefield. These men are not patients of Walter Reed because they have a cough or a broken arm. They are patients in this facility because they are missing integral pieces of human flesh that the rest of us rely on daily for function and mobility. I saw countless men missing both legs, some above the pelvis. There were those missing hands and arms. And then still were the ones missing 3 limbs. There were some missing only one leg, to which you found yourself thinking “wow he’s the lucky one”. Upon reflection of that thought, you realize the insanity of the atmosphere and situation that one could possibly think that only one lost leg “was a lucky case”. Some had already been outfitted with prosthesis and some had come out of surgery just days before, still wearing blood stained bandages.
The soldiers I came in contact with, wounded warriors as they’re now called, were in various stages of mental, emotional, and physical recovery. Some have accepted their injury and have used it to fuel their future endeavors. And there are some that haven’t yet been able to accept the long road ahead of them. Some so electric and charismatic, that you don’t even notice their injury until you’re 30 minutes into a conversation. And some that carry the weight of their fate in every move they make and every unspoken word left unsaid.
One boy in particular, I use the term “boy” because this soldier didn’t even have the ability to grow facial hair yet, was being pushed in a wheelchair by his mom, too young to have a wife or even buy his own liquor. He’d just had his lower leg removed days before. I remember thinking as this child was being pushed towards me, and the grim looks on both his and his mother’s faces, “this isn’t worth it. What have we done to the male youth of our country?”. But thankfully for me and the rest of the American population, this soldier doesn’t and did not think like that. He had a job to do and a calling to uphold, and he did it. They all did.
These men will have my thoughts and a part of my heart forever. But they need more than that. They need the open arms of an American public that they fought so valiantly for, to fight for them. They need our unending support, financially and emotionally. In a word, they just need “more”. They deserve more.