Brave ac­counts of ‘tri­umph over tragedy’

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By John R. Coyne Jr.

Lt. Col. Oliver North, a re­tired Ma­rine, au­thor, colum­nist and host of the award-win­ning doc­u­men­tary se­ries “War Sto­ries” on the Fox News Chan­nel, was once called by Pres­i­dent Rea­gan “an Amer­i­can hero.” He has the cre­den­tials to prove it.

An An­napo­lis grad­u­ate who chose to make his ca­reer in the Ma­rine Corps, then-Lt. North led a pla­toon in com­bat in Viet­nam, earn­ing the Sil­ver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor and two Pur­ple Hearts. From 1983 to 1986, he served as coun­tert­er­ror­ism co­or­di­na­tor on the staff of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, with the na­tion shocked into aware­ness of the very real threat posed by Is­lamic ter­ror­ists and the need to meet that threat head-on, Mr. North’s Fox News team has trav­eled to Iraq and Afghanistan, of­ten into the thick of com­bat, to re­port on the men and women who serve our na­tion, too of­ten with lit­tle or no ap­pre­ci­a­tion or thanks.

He writes, “The young Amer­i­cans I have been cov­er­ing for Fox News … for­feited the com­forts of home, ab­sented them­selves from the af­fec­tion of loved ones, and vol­un­teered to go into harm’s way in some of the most dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous places on earth. They are the best and bravest of their gen­er­a­tion. We are all bet­ter for their ser­vice.”

It’s th­ese young war­riors and those wait­ing for them at home — those “who have en­dured the loss of loved ones and the re­silience of the he­roes who have lost limbs and yet per­se­vere through ter­ri­ble trauma” — that in­spired this book. “Their tri­umph over tragedy is the heart and soul of this book, and I’m thank­ful they have al­lowed us to tell their sto­ries.”

Th­ese are not easy sto­ries to come to grips with, in­volv­ing as they do clean-cut young Amer­i­cans, many just mar­ried, oth­ers with small chil­dren, go­ing off to war, be­ing maimed by the im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices (IEDs) that have be­come the Is­lamists’ bat­tle­field weapon of choice, then re­turn­ing to their wives and chil­dren, or fi­ances, and com­ing to terms with what will in ef­fect be a new life.

At the Wal­ter Reed Na­tional Mil­i­tary Med­i­cal Center at Bethesda, Mr. North dis­cusses the ad­vance­ments made in the treat­ment of th­ese young Amer­i­cans with Jack Fowler, the same Navy corps­man, he writes, “who had bound up my wounds dur­ing a bloody bat­tle in Viet­nam.”

Mr. Fowler, who af­ter Viet­nam went on to make a dis­tin­guished ca­reer in mil­i­tary medicine, points out that in ear­lier wars, the young Amer­i­cans be­ing treated at Bethesda and other mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals would not have sur­vived.

But to­day, field corps­man are bet­ter trained and equipped, and bat­tle­field ca­su­al­ties, usu­ally from IEDs, are moved rapidly by he­li­copter to a fully equipped field hos­pi­tal, then flown to Land­stuhl Re­gional Med­i­cal Center in Ger­many. Fi­nally, “‘usu­ally within sev­enty-two to ninety-six hours af­ter be­ing wounded,’” they land at An­drews Air Force base and are brought to Bethesda.

“‘This is where the high-speed trip stops,’” says Mr. Fowler. “‘Many of our ca­su­al­ties need mul­ti­ple surg­eries.’” And while most of them were re­mark­ably fit when wounded, “‘heal­ing for body, mind and spirit is nearly al­ways more painful than the orig­i­nal in­jury. Re­cov­ery also re­quires the ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion of those who love them — their par­ents, spouses, chil­dren, sib­lings and close friends.’”

That “ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion” is what this book is all about. Mr. North ap­plauds the ef­forts of groups such as the Ma­rine Corps Wounded War­rior Reg­i­ment, with head­quar­ters at Quan­tico, Va., and de­tach­ments at Wal­ter Reed and other mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals, that fa­cil­i­tate travel and lodg­ings for spouses and par­ents.

The sto­ries told here are mov­ing, at times wrench­ing. But they’re also in­spir­ing sto­ries, a trib­ute to ser­vice wives, a very spe­cial breed of hero, and to the fi­ances, fam­i­lies and friends who give our re­turn­ing he­roes to­tal sup­port and rea­son to re­cover.

Mr. North, who con­tin­ues to serve his coun­try, has per­formed a sin­gu­lar ser­vice by bring­ing th­ese sto­ries to us. Lest we for­get. Sem­per Fidelis.

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