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The Story of Pvt. Hargrove


When Congress members voted to go to war in 2002, they didn’t think about Pvt. Joseph Hargrove. Instead, they thought about their re-election, their party, and themselves.

Hargrove lives in an antiseptic-six- by-10 room at Gainesville Florida’s Veterans Hospital. A survivor of the unnecessary Iraq War, he’s a forgotten victim of that terrible decision. Rich, oblivious, and partisan legislators must be held accountable for Joe.

The Senate voted for the Iraq War 77 to 23. Only one Republican, Lincoln Chafee, voted his conscience and crossed party lines. In the House, the resolution passed 296 to 133 with six Republicans voting nay. On Election Day, Americans should remember the wise 156 legislators who just said no.

Back from Iraq less than a year, Hargrove looked at the place where his legs used to be and decided there were worse things than dying. So he held a revolver above his right ear and pulled the trigger. The bullet ensured his legless, thoughtless body will sit in a hospital bed hooked up to an assortment of tubes and bottles until the merciful day gravediggers cover it with dirt.

When President Bush, formerly of the Alabama National Guard, and Vice President Dick Cheney, holder of five deferments from the Vietnam War, sent Hargrove and others like him into harms way, the American public were told they were in danger and that the invasion was necessary for national security. The administration pounded the drums of war hard and fast, and said it would be too dangerous to wait for the U.N. inspector’s results. They said the pre-emptive strike was necessary to prevent a “smoking gun.”

Forty years previous to Iraq, another generation of Americans was told a bright shining lie. President John F. Kennedy told that generation that a torch had been passed, and they must bear any burden and pay any price to insure freedom around the globe. What Kennedy didn’t tell, the 58, 000 cold, dead boys shipped home in body bags was that if free elections were held in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh would have won overwhelmingly.

After Kennedy’s assassination, his successor Lyndon Johnson never told the more than 150,000 U.S. casualties that his administration made up the “attack” on the U.S.S. Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, which expanded the war. Johnson later joked, “For all I know they could have been shooting at a bunch of seals out there.”

Determined not to be the first American administration to lose a war, the Executive Branch beat its breasts, twisted arms and waved the flag until Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  Johnson laughed and later called the resolution “grandma’s nightgown.” because he said, “It covers everything.”

Like Vietnam, the Iraq War remains a national disgrace. The people whose homes were destroyed, whose lives were disrupted, whose children were murdered, did not have ties to Al Qaeda. They were not responsible for blowing up the World Trade Center, and we’ve long given up looking for the weapons then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said they had.

America has succeeded in getting more than 4,000 of its brave young men and women killed, and more than 70,000 wounded at a cost of, according to the Washington Post, more than $3 trillion. The disastrous decision destroyed Iraq’s hospitals, roads and bridges, displaced more than two million people and, by most estimates, killed close to a million more.

In the United States of “Amnesia,” where “shock and awe” is now a forgotten refrain, emphasis has shifted to health care and deficits. The previous administration insists the world’s a safer place without Saddam Hussein, and Democrats that voted to rush to war show neither remorse nor regret.

One doubts Sarah Hargrove, Joe’s mother, agrees with party leaders George Bush and Hillary Clinton that the vote for war was the right thing to do. Every other day, the 85-year-old Mrs. Hargrove takes the two-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Jacksonville to Gainesville’s Veterans Hospital to visit the legless-lifeless-lump that used to be her son.

Next time old, rich, men decide to spill the blood of our nation’s treasure, voters should remember that only two children of the 435 Congressmen and 100 Senators were put in harms way in Iraq. In the future when the sideline patriots vote for war, let their children lead the charge.

In the meantime, the electorate should hold accountable the members of both parties who voted for that abomination. Remove them from office. Voters owe that much to Joe and others like him.

William P. O’Connor enlisted in the Air Force on August 1, 1966. He served in the Vietnam War from August 1969 to August 1970 in Nakhon Phanom in Northern Thailand. William was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1948. He is a former pub owner and retired NYC fire fighter. He may be contacted at


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