"Most Americans Don’t Know Who or Where the Wounded Are"


The subject line of the e-mail read “Thanks.” The author expressed his condolences for the loss of my nephew in Iraq. He, then, told me his story. I asked permission to use it. Jess agreed:

I have a 30 year old son who returned from his second rotation in Iraq this past Veteran’s Day. He was also among the first soldiers that initially set up the torture chambers for Bush and Rumsfeld in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

From the early days in Guantanamo, my son expressed concerns about the motives for the war. It was here that he took a position of nonsupport for it.

When his unit was called to duty in March, 2003, I offered to send him to Canada. At the time, we were sitting on the parking lot pavement of a Fort Hood, TX recreation center where he was scheduled to depart from.

He said, ‘I am going there so I can bring the men I am responsible for back home to their loved ones. That is the only reason.’

I cried and am still crying, even as I write you.

My son knew what I had known for most of the 32 years I served in the military. Soldiers falsely believe they have the best equipment, the right equipment, the best training, and, of course, they are doing it for freedom and democracy. This actually puts them more at risk during missions.

Two times he’s deployed to Iraq for a total of 25 months. He hated every minute in Iraq. He hates what the Government has done to the people there and to the soldiers in the military.

I thought I would be able to sleep through the night once he returned. A foolish thought. Knowing others are serving and dying in a senseless war still keeps me awake.

My ‘Get out of Iraq Now’ decal was ripped off the bumper of my truck while parked in the lot where I work.

Why isn’t the media making every death in Iraq prime time.

This poignant message, in support of my own beliefs, touched my soul.

Jess wrote that he began to script a press release in the event his son was killed in the war:

I demanded he not be called a hero. I demanded that the media not say he died defending freedom and democracy. Rather, I wanted the press to say that he died in vain and on behalf of government lies. I insisted that the press say he died not defending the Constitution and the borders of this country as he swore he would do.

In an act of defiance and protest, I plotted a plan to drive his body home to Oklahoma from Dover AFB. My plan was to pursue the military to deliver his body outside the Dover gates. From there, I was going to place his casket on an open trailer. I wanted the world to see what Bush was hiding when he prohibited photos of the caskets arriving endlessly from the criminal war in Iraq. My plan was to make a slow trip home to allow the media an opportunity to showcase my sorrow and protest. I am thankful I didn’t have to execute this idea.

I wrote Jess that when my nephew was killed, he came back to his beloved Bluegrass State with his head completely wrapped in gauze. I wanted my family to agree to an open-casket funeral. I wanted all who attended and the press to see what this war had done to him.

This is what Mamie Till Mobley did when her son Emmett was murdered in Mississippi. Because his body was mutilated with eyes gouged out, she was advised not to allow photographs to be shown. She ignored this advice. She wanted the world to see the result of racial hatred. The pictures of Emmett Till went around the globe and were instrumental in galvanizing the Civil Rights Movement.

My nephew’s casket was closed and his funeral was a Marine recruiter’s dream. Some of his friends were heard commenting, “What a cool funeral.”

Imagine. He died when an explosion blew away his entire face and this funeral, because of the closed, flagged-draped casket, the pomp and circumstance, and the beautifully uniformed Marines in attendance, was considered “cool.”

Perhaps, if the injuries of our troops were exposed for viewing every single day, people would start marching in the streets to end this war–to end all war.

This is what Jess wrote about our wounded:

Most Americans still don’t know who the wounded are. They don’t know where the wounded are. They don’t even think of them when they welcome returning soldiers home.

My son suggested to his leadership that the wounded be recognized during his unit’s redeployment ceremony. It was ignored. There was no mention of the soldiers killed. Everything was made to appear sterile and good, complete with DJ playing patriotic music. Those who have paid the most get the least recognition. The wounded are sick and seen as a deterrent to mission readiness. They are now a burden. The wounded and sick take up space, time, resources, thus, they become a liability. Oh, how often I heard the derogatory remarks healthy soldiers make about the sick or those on medical profiles that are unable to perform their ‘load’ in the unit. They were often treated as were conscientious objectors.

I learned more about Jess as we corresponded. When a younger son questioned his father’s experience in Vietnam, Jess said:

First, I assured him that I could talk about what I did in the Vietnam War. I had no shame. I practiced the morals my folks taught me. I told my son that a man cannot kill another man as long as he sees that man as his own loving brother. Man can only kill another man when he reduces that man to a lower life other than man–an object. My sons have never forgotten this.

Jess is a busy man, speaking to students in an attempt to prevent their enlisting in the armed services. But he believes it’s the mothers in our country who, finally, will put an end to this war:

They speak the loudest when they are in pain and grief, unlike men who want to uphold the macho image. Their vote during the next round of elections will be heard even though I suspect much more voting fraud than ever before.

Jess’ son is scheduled to redeploy to Iraq for a third tour in June of 2006.

Oh, yes, here’s something more you should know. Jess, not only served in Vietnam, he was sent to the first Gulf War after which he was approved for the Bronze Star Medal. He declined. He explained to me that for every officer who refuses this medal, two enlisted soldiers will receive the award.

An honorable man and devoted father, Jess knows war personally and would never dishonor our soldiers by spending their lives so capriciously. He is a true patriot.

After listening to Bush’s “performance art” last night–his well-crafted speech and those gestures where he touches his heart–I thought how interesting it would be to discard the Teleprompter and, instead, watch Jess and George W. debate.

Bush’s candle would extinguish itself in Jess’s presence.

MISSY COMLEY BEATTIE can be reached at: Missybeat@aol.com


Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com