Updated July 16, 2004








The Best Kept Secret in Washington:

The Best Kept Secret in Washington:

 War Wounded


By Mike Blair


Throughout history, the recording of battle deaths has graphically illustrated the terrible cost of war. But those who want a more accurate portrayal of that awful price should instead look to the wounded—those brave men and women who return home from combat with debilitating injuries to find that the battle, for them, has not ended.

In some wars, a deliberate effort was made to maximize the number of enemy soldiers maimed, not killed—on the logical understanding that one or more others on the opposing side would be tied up caring for the wounded, while the dead need minimal care.

From World War II to present, there have been 612,875 Americans, mostly young, who have lost their lives in the service of the nation. An additional 928,900 returned to their homes suffering from wounds they received on the battlefield.

In the war in Iraq, as of July 9, 882 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen have been killed, and, according to the Pentagon, in Iraq the ratio is estimated to be about six wounded for every battle death. But the Pentagon is not telling the whole truth.

Calling upon various resources, in and out of the military, American Free Press estimates that as many as 30,000 American servicemen have been sent home from Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of battle wounds, accidents and illnesses.

On May 1, President George W. Bush declared that the war was over in Iraq. It’s been more than a year since that time, and, every week, large transport planes are still arriving at Andrews Air Force Base loaded with wounded soldiers, all unseen by most Americans.

According to experts AFP consulted, among those 30,000 airlifted from Iraq and Afghanistan are an unknown number of seriously wounded, who, like thousands of others before them in previous wars, are hidden from the public.

No one knows—or at least no one has been able to find out—just how many of these men still exist in underfunded Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities throughout America, and possibly abroad, as the U.S. government maintains no public accounting of the “living dead.”

As this scenario of America’s “living dead” plays out during the Iraq war, the irony is that, according to recent reports, “Kevlar helmets, body armor equipped with ceramic panels, field improvisations to personal and vehicle armor all have contributed to better protection against [often fatal] bullet and shrapnel wounds but have left the extremities vulnerable.”

Some have had their faces blown away or suffered irreparable brain damage. Some have no limbs, and some are totally paralyzed.

Somewhere in the many facilities run by the VA, these men exist, hidden away in the department’s 163 hospitals, 135 nursing homes, 43 domiciliaries and 73 “comprehensive home-care programs.”

How many of these men are there?

The American Legion doesn’t know. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) doesn’t know. The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) doesn’t know. Not even the Purple Heart Association admits knowledge, and they should be aware of every soldier wounded in combat.

American Free Press contacted the VA, which didn’t respond to our repeated inquiries. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also chose not to reply.

For Iraq and Afghanistan, it has been almost impossible to get an accurate accounting of the number of wounded.

In the February 16 issue, American Free Press first reported on the untold story of the thousands of injured U.S. military personnel being treated in a German military hospital. Reporting from the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, military officials told AFP that 12,000 U.S. servicemen and women had been brought to that one facility to receive treatment before being sent to military hospitals in the United States.

According to Army Col. David Hackworth (retired), speaking more than six months ago, on Dec. 30:

“Even I . . . was staggered when a Pentagon source gave me a copy of a Nov. 30 dispatch showing that since George W. Bush unleashed the dogs of war, our armed forces have taken 14,000 casualties in Iraq—about the number of warriors in a line tank division.”

That means “we’ve lost 10 percent of the total number” of available personnel—135,000. That 10 percent “has been evacuated back to the United States,” said Hackworth. In other words, our forces have effectively been decimated.

It gets worse.

Lt. Col. Scott D. Ross of the U.S. military’s Transportation Command revealed to Hackworth that as of last Christmas his “outfit has evacuated 3,255 battle-injured casualties and 18,717 non-battle injuries, a total of 21,972 servicemen and women.” Ross conceded that some of the personnel involved might have been counted more than once

A poignant reminder of the cost of war was well portrayed in the 1946 motion picture, The Best Years of Our Lives, which showed the impact of war on the young men who must leave home to fight for their country’s politicians and bankers.

The movie portrayed a young man who had lost both arms in battle, a part played by a genuine wartime double-amputee, Harold Russell.

Russell won an Academy Award for best supporting actor and won accolades throughout the nation for his courage, bravery and patriotism.

It is sad to reflect that he ended his years on Earth after having been forced to sell his Oscar to survive.

On a warm day last June, a young American soldier, standing, erect, proud and unbowed, was caught by a Fox News camera as he raised the stub of his arm to salute his dead commander in chief, former President Ronald Reagan, laying in state in front of him.

Like Russell, the unidentified soldier was young and obviously very dedicated to his country.

Little has changed between 1946 and 2004, with the best years of the life of the young soldier from Iraq’s battlefront, who is now destined to live out his life having gone off to fight when his country called but then coming home leaving a part of him behind.

But this young soldier and Russell are not the soldiers of this article. They can be seen. We are writing about those who cannot.

For some 30 years this writer has written about soldiers, the nation’s missing in action and prisoners of war, who have been written off by official Washington, in many instances with our leaders knowing of their existence alive in enemy captivity.

Now it occurs to this writer that he is again writing about POWs and MIAs. These are men who are prisoners of their wounds of war. They are missing from sight due to the concerns of government military and veterans service establishments, which fear that by allowing them into the light of day, it would reveal the real cost of America’s ventures into globalism, international corporate greed and now—as in Iraq—oil.

Furthermore, the stress of battle has taken its toll on our soldiers’ minds. Many have been driven to suicide.

Better records have been kept in Bosnia. From them, Defense Department officials have determined 15-16 percent of medical evacuations were for mental health reasons.

“Stress is not something you just have in that foxhole,” said Bernard Rostker, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. There is evidence that unchecked stress plays a major role in changing behavior, such as increasing substance abuse, including alcoholism, and in the most extreme cases, suicide, he said.

Over the past 12 months there has been an unusually high number of suicides among U.S. troops in Iraq. Hundreds of soldiers experiencing psychological problems have been evacuated from the country. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement authorizing the extension by at least three months of the tours of duty of some 20,000 soldiers set to return home, and the possibility of intensified guerrilla warfare, may add to the stress suffered by GIs in Iraq.

In response, the government has increased the use of “combat stress control teams,” established a toll-free crisis hotline for service members having problems dealing with stress and set up recuperation centers where soldiers can rest for a few days before returning to the front lines. But questions about whether these actions are too little too late, and how the soldiers will be treated when they return home, remain unanswered.

Twenty-five soldiers have taken their lives during the past year in the Iraq occupation. In addition, there have been seven suicides among newly “State-sided” troops, including two soldiers who killed themselves while patients at Walter Reed Army Hospital, The Toronto Star recently reported.

No information is available on how many returning soldiers might become murderers as a result of their wartime experiences.

The New Yorker (July 14) interviewed a returned soldier named Carl Cranston.

Cranston and his men had to establish roadblocks—notoriously dangerous duty. “People would approach with white flags in their hands and then whip out AK-47s or rocket-propelled grenades,” he told the magazine. So Cranston’s group adopted a policy: if a driver ignored signs and the warnings and came within 30 yards of a roadblock, the Americans opened fire. He said, “A couple of times—more than a couple—it was women and children in the car. I don’t know why they didn’t stop.” Cranston’s squad didn’t tow away the cars containing dead people. “You can’t go near it,” he said. “It might be full of explosives. You just leave it.” He and his men would remain at their posts alongside the carnage. No wonder some soldiers go insane in this kind of war.

At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., some 3,000 amputees from the Iraq war and occupation have been treated to date. Each prosthetic arm or leg can cost U.S. taxpayers up to $100,000.

Veterans know the price of war, and many are willing to talk about it.

“George W. Bush is the only president to delight in posing for photographs, in combat gear, with real soldiers as one of ‘the boys,’ ” a WWII vet told AFP. “However, he knows absolutely nothing about war and its costs. If he were to take a tour through a veterans hospital and see some of the devastated young men his belligerency has produced, he might have a different view of his record.”


© American Free Press 2004