Veterans Day columns often take one of two forms: love letters to the troops, or advocacy pieces that point out a problem plaguing veterans. So when seasoned foreign correspondent David Wood chose to commemorate Veterans Day with a dedication to veterans, he understood the precedent:
It's Veterans Day today, and there will be wreath-laying and patriotic speeches. Veterans organizations will remind us that veterans services are underfunded. There will be arguments about whether homeless veterans are homeless because they are veterans or for the same myriad reasons thousands of other Americans are homeless. There will be rhetorical calls for us Never to Forget.
Instead of following one of these traditional forms, Wood offers a variation. He introduces readers to a handful of American soldiers he came to know in decades traveling with and reporting on the military:
Thinking about veterans, I recalled Army Sgt. Robert Bartlett, who was badly wounded in Iraq. He was driving an armored Humvee that struck an IED; the blast ripped off much of his face. Shrapnel punctured internal organs; he lost an eye and was virtually dead when medics dragged him out of the wreckage. It took two years of surgery before he could smile.
But he is irrepressibly proud of his military service -- and horrified at the ugly reality of war. Months before the blast, Bartlett told me, an Iraqi had appeared at the front gate of his base, saying that children were missing from his village. Bartlett took a squad to investigate. A dozen children had been caught up somehow in a Sunni-Shiite struggle over a neighborhood. They'd been kidnapped and shot to death, their bodies left on a dusty street. A joint U.S.-Iraqi strike force eventually found and arrested the guilty.
"War is not ever a good experience,'' Bartlett said between physical therapy sessions at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington. "War is not pretty. There isn't anyone who hates war more than a soldier who's been there. Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary. There are evil people out there, and I am proud of my service, that I was able to do something.'' His time in the Army, Bartlett said, was "hands down, the best thing I have ever done in my life.''
Wood honored the troops the way that only someone who really knows them can. His stories of troubled but brave soldiers are as touching as they are honest. His column invites us to admire and respect American veterans the way that a fellow traveler--not a distant observer--would do.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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