Sunday's Washington Post has an extremely moving story about the men who suffered some of the most grievous wounds during the war with Iraq, and who now are recovering from their wounds at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. (The Post also has the photos from the article available online.)
On TV, the war was a rout, with infrared tanks rolling toward Baghdad on a desert soundstage. But the permanent realities unfold more quietly on Georgia Avenue NW, behind the black iron gates of the nation's largest military hospital.Some thoughts... The human cost of war is always one of the most troubling things to accept, because it really calls into question our reasons for the war itself. When you look at a wounded combat veteran, the question stares back at you: "Was this man's injury worth it?" I will reserve judgment on that question, given all that has come to light in the last few weeks regarding our casus belli in Iraq. However, I believe that we owe these answers to the men and women we sent to Iraq, and to the families of those who will not return. Our nation should never fight for an unworthy case; the cost in blood and treasure is too high.
Here, the battle shifts from hot sand to polished hallways, and the broad ambitions of global security are replaced by the singular mission of saving a leg. Ward 57, the hospital's orthopedics wing, is the busiest. High-tech body armor spared lives but not necessarily limbs.
The night President Bush declared the end of major combat, the soldiers on Ward 57 slept, unaware of victory.
Garth Stewart was curled in a miserable ball of blue pajamas.
First Lt. John Fernandez, the West Point graduate, was beginning married life from a wheelchair.
Pfc. Danny Roberts was wishing for Faulkner instead of a glossy guide about adapting to limb loss.
Their war was not yet over.
Walter Reed has been treating wounded soldiers since the beginning of the century, expanding and contracting with the rhythms of war. During World War I, the number of patient beds grew from 80 to 2,500 in a matter of months. Three generations later, the soldiers from Operation Iraqi Freedom arrive, some so fresh from the battlefield they still have dirt and blood beneath their fingernails.
Each morning, across the sprawling grounds of the 147-acre compound, reveille is sounded at 6. But up on the hospital's fifth floor on Ward 57, the fluorescent dawn is indistinguishable from the fluorescent night. Two long halls flank the nurse's desk, the command center of the ward. Doctors begin their morning rounds at dawn.