Souvenirs of War: Purple Hearts, Prosthetics and Phantom Pains

November 9, 2010

“I teared up…and didn’t cry again for 40 years.”
–Combat veteran Bob Ness after a close friend died next to him in Vietnam.

A spooked soul lives behind the troubled eyes of a combat soldier.

A U.S. soldier of 2-12 Infantry 4BCT-4ID Task Force Mountain Warrior takes a break during a night mission near Honaker Miracle camp at the Pesh valley of Kunar Province August 12, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Whether returning from the battlefields of Kandahar, Kirkuk, Khe Sanh, or Korea, weary veterans come home with that same intense and unnerving stare…dark, swollen lines surround exhausted eyes that dart in and out of distant shadows; eyes searching for ghosts waiting to haunt the last shreds of sanity remaining inside a terrorized mind.

A U.S. Marine from Bravo Company of 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, gestures during a gun battle in the town of Marjah, in Nad Ali district of Helmand province, February 13, 2010.  REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Veteran’s call it “the thousand yards stare.”

That playful bravado and bulletproof swagger shared on the flight overseas melts into a pool of lies once the first ear-piercing “snap” chasing the tail of a hungry bullet misses a lucky helmet; that innocent belief of invincibility is quickly replaced with the frostbitten truth that the hunter becomes hunted in battle.

Sgt. William Olas Bee, a U.S. Marine from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, has a close call after Taliban fighters opened fire near Garmsir in Helmand Province of Afghanistan, May 18, 2008. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

A random flip of the coin determines who lives under the protective wing of a merciful angel and who is left alone to run from the devil’s deadly horn; good guys die as quickly as bad guys.

U.S. Marine platoon Gunnery Sergeant, Ryan P. Shane, from the 1st Battalion of the 8th Marine Regiment, pulls a fatally wounded comrade to safety while under fire during a military operation in the Iraqi western city of Falluja, in this handout photograph released on December 17, 2004. Seconds later Sgt. Shane was also injured by nearby enemy fire, U.S. Marine officer said. REUTERS/HO/USMC/Cpl. Joel A. Chaverri

Every GI knows the tiny Bible carried over the heart is too small to hide behind in combat even as faith continues and desperate promises made under fire are honored for the remainder of a grateful life. The chain of true believers pray as one for the end of their forced march in Hell.

A U.S. Army soldier with 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 82nd Airborne Division prays during a Sunday mass in his base in Arghandab valley in Kandahar province, in southern Afghanistan May 9, 2010.  REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

Those lucky charms carried inside the uniform can’t stop supersonic bullets arrogantly hunting at 2400 feet per second. That’s like NFL quarterback Brett Farve throwing a pass to a receiver standing eight football fields away and it arrives in exactly one second. About the time it takes to say, “Bang, you’re dead.”

A mother’s cry begging safe return of her baby translates the same in English, as in Arabic, as she stares at an empty front door; while another mother’s frantic wail stings the air after luck dies on foreign soil and a somber “Dignified Transfer” at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware replaces the planned neighborhood “Welcome Home” parade.

A row of U.S. Army helmets are perched on M-16 rifles during a memorial at Al Asad air base November 6, 2003 for the 15 victims of a Chinook helicopter which was shot down by insurgents on the weekend. Against a backdrop of 15 helmets resting on M-16 rifles, American soldiers honored their comrades, victims of the single deadliest incident for U.S. forces since they invaded Iraq. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Shane and his mother, Cindy, in Georgia, December 2004.Army mom Cindy Parsons remembers dropping to her knees and begging for help after hanging up the phone in 2006 when an official voice first asked her, “Are you the mother of soldier Shane Parsons?” Shane was injured severely in Ramadi, Iraq, and she was instructed to stay close to the phone.

Shane and his mother share an unbreakable bond; he’s an only child, and she’s a single-mother. She describes him as “the most amazing person in my life.”

The voice informed her Shane had lost one leg and was very critical after an IED vaporized the ground below his boots. Four hours later… another call… the other leg removed. More painful news… Shane had barely survived cardiac arrest three different times. “He’s alive” for now said the voice. “Please God” cried Cindy. Hope was running out.

Mom flew to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and prayed once again before visiting him, “Dear Lord, give me a sign. Am I going to bring my son home in a coffin?”

Rainbow over Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, October 2006.

A brilliant rainbow arched over the sky while she walked towards the hospital. She looked up and whispered a quiet thank you while hurrying to see him. He is now recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Shane’s spirit is stronger than the rivers below Montana’s Big Sky. He’s tough, fearless, and wakes up with more confidence than men standing twice his size.

Shane Parsons takes part in aquatic training to increase balance on Flow Rider in San Antonio, Texas.

But that road in Ramadi cost him plenty. Shane lost the ability to write his name because of severe brain injuries, says Mrs. Parsons, “but he still loves wearing a uniform and he loves playing sports.” “That’s when he smiles…” she says.

Sailor outfit in Fostoria, Ohio, 1986.Shane always looked natural in a uniform; even as a child… youth flag football, karate, wrestling, varsity football and the U.S. Army.

“Shane Parsons was one of those players that any coach would beg for,” says his former football coach Tom Grine at Fostoria High School in Ohio.
“Strength… quickness… determination… character… and EMOTION” were all pieces to the puzzle, explains Grine. He “lived for Friday night’s game,” said coach.

Varsity high school football in Ohio, 2004.

He attacked fiercely while on the gridiron and opposing players double teamed him all season. Shane loved the game and left his heart and his soul on the field. A real football hero. He lived by that same warrior’s code in Iraq. Both legs were left behind after fighting on the battlefield. A real war hero.

President George W. Bush stands with U.S. Army Cpl. Shane Parsons after presenting him with a Purple Heart  at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where the Fostoria, Ohio soldier is recovering from injuries received in Iraq, in Washington December 22, 2006.  REUTERS/Eric Draper/HandoutPresident George W. Bush presented him the Purple Heart medal in 2007. The Purple Heart medal is the symbol to honor GI’s wounded during combat. “After the president left my room I held it for hours, and hours, and hours. It meant a lot to me,” he said. The president also gave Shane two presidential challenge coins for his collection. “I gave one to my good friend, who saved my life,” he said. President Bush made a point of giving his coin to wounded veterans while thanking them for their service.

(The hobby of exchanging challenge coins is enthusiastically pursued inside the military community and any presidential coin is a prized catch.)

Shane now wears a different uniform playing with a sled hockey team called, The San Antonio Rampage. The entire roster consists of wounded GI’s recuperating in Texas and is sponsored by the volunteer organization, “Operation Comfort,” founded by former flight attendant Janis Roznowski.

Players are strapped onto “sleds” that glide across the ice while balanced on two sharp skating blades. They push off with their arms using small hockey sticks with sharp metal teeth attached to the ends for traction.

Vietnam veteran and hockey coach Tom Rozowski straps Shane to sled before game.

Shane competed this year at the 6th “National Disabled Festival” in Laurel, Maryland. Both the Rampage and Team USA, (a team of similarly wounded veterans from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington) faced off during the tournament.

Team USA sled hockey team before playing game San Antonio Rampage in National Disabled Festival.

Legs of wounded Team USA members during game.

Mrs. Parsons starts each day knowing she can still share her life with Shane; she found comfort when her prayers were answered. He starts off knowing simple tasks won’t ever be simple again. His comfort is found within the strength of the long line of military champions who returned home from the destruction of war refusing to surrender to the limitations of waking up each morning needing a wheelchair.

Shane uses bottle of cologne to shower and refresh in locker room after hockey game.

United State Army Maj. Tammy Duckworth testifies during the U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee's hearing titled, "Back from the Battlefield: Are We Providing the Proper Care of America's Wounded Warriors?" March 17, 2005 in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington. A member of the Illinois National Guard, Duckworth was injured when the Blackhawk helicopter she was piloting was shot down by a rocket propelled grenade in Iraq. She lost both her legs and one of her arms was injured. REUTERS/Chip Somodevilla Leading that group is Army pilot Tammy Duckworth. Don’t be fooled by her soft “sugar and spice and everything nice” good looks, she’s one tough cookie who didn’t crumble after proving women can take the same mean hits like a man playing in a frightening game.

Duckworth survived when the helicopter she co-piloted over Iraq was shot down six years ago after an enemy missile ripped through the bottom of the aircraft and blasted through both her legs while in-flight. “I get up every day and say thank you to my crew for saving my life,” she said while explaining what happened after hitting the ground. The pilot, Dan Milberg, “carried me out of the aircraft. I was missing two limbs, and my arm was essentially severed. I was a bloody, pulpy person with one limb to hang onto…” said Duckworth. “He knew I was dead but he wasn’t going to leave me behind. I have to be worthy of that effort,” she said.

Dan Milberg and Tammy Duckworth.Duckworth and Milberg get together once a year to celebrate her “Alive Day,” on the anniversary of her wounds. “That’s the only day each year he allows me to thank him for saving my life,” she explained.

Those injuries haven’t slowed her ambitions or stopped her thirst for thrills. “I’m so much more fearless now and try things I’ve never done before”, she said. She recently ran for a U.S. Congressional seat before accepting an appointment from President Barack Obama as the Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs. A perfect fit.

A combination photo shows Tammy Duckworth.

She’s surfed, skied and scuba-dived in open waters. Duckworth still pilots a small plane and has even jumped out of one with the U.S. Army’s elite parachuting team, The Golden Knights.

Duckworth jumps with the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights parachute team, February 2010.

Oh yes, if a soldier’s troubled eyes could talk. Worried parents would insist children log off addictive heroics played out in cyber-war games like “Call of Duty” and sit them down to authentic accounts of war’s harsh accountabilities before they sign a military contract. Otherwise, the fine print of real modern warfare may never be explained, that a GI’s own funeral may be closer to the present than the future.

Military funerals chill a family’s deep roots long before the last note from “Taps” is heard. Young promise is frozen forever underneath the blue mist of a winter’s icy blanket even when the soft glow from the red, white, and blue warms drifting snows.

Snow covers the gravestone of Karl F. Morrison in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia during sunset two days before Christmas day in Arlington, Virginia, December 23, 2009. REUTERS/Larry Downing

And returning GI’s carry heavy baggage loaded with “survivor’s guilt” during their own lonely homecoming standing above a silent friend; names etched onto a hallowed wall are quiet reminders of a loved one’s appointment with death. Memories fade fast but the tattooed message of war travels the world as an inked monument to personal sacrifice.

A U.S. Marine leans on the headstone of a comrade recently buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, May 27, 2010.  REUTERS/Jason Reed

However, the military continues to be an eager employer and the “Help Wanted” sign burns a bright guiding light across an entire nation. It shines into lonely trailer parks, up dark Appalachian hollows with as much brilliance as through the shattered bedroom windows inside Chicago’s crowded housing projects.

Patriots, paupers, bikers, rednecks, Mexicans and Muslims are welcomed to add to the pillars of strength. Uncle Sam ‘opens arms’ for those with courage to bear arms and defend the flag’s colors.

Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, May 2010.

The military has always been the great escape for those needing a new home. One writer of this story recalls his reasons for signing up in 1971. “I left home for good at 17 years-old and hitchhiked from Boston to California before enlisting on the promise of a daily, hot breakfast; a welcome treat after eating aspirin before class in high school to soften the sting of waking up in a house with an empty kitchen.”

“It was necessary for me to turn a deaf ear to troubling television reports from Vietnam by brave correspondents like CBS’s Bill Plante detailing bloody battles and body counts before I could successfully flee a broken home; even if it meant running towards the military draft,” he explained.

Bill Plante reports from South Vietnam, 1970.

Joining provided the chance to watch a wasted childhood disappear from the rear window of a bus ride out of nowhere as it rolled towards the alien green planet, “basic training….”

Abduction of the terrified recruit was, is, and shall always be, a swift encounter of the loudest kind. “Smokey the Bear” hats suspended above fiery eyes are hitched onto emerald swirls of frenzied tension that swarm, scare, and scream at petrified teenagers stranded years away from yesterday.

Silhouettes stumble across the warm black tarmac to the barking rhythm of a cursing cadence. “Mercedes” dreams and “Tiffany” wishes are tempting distractions but are buried inside the mind’s time capsule; even sweet memories of a willing high school prom date cornered on the tiny back seat of a borrowed car seem impossibly distant when blazing eyeballs burn away past glory.

United States Marine Corps drill instructor yells at a recruit after wakeup attention detail in Parris Island, South Carolina, January 6, 2005. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Welcome to every recruit’s nightmarish introduction to military “shock and awe.” Is it too late to get back on that bus?

Time marches on in step with excited boots crowded onto a magic carpet ride to adventure. Young graduates anxiously await opportunities to use explosive solutions for conflict resolution and a chance to test those new threads of courage stitched along their DNA.

Gentle persuasion and kindness are used by GI’s trying to reduce the deep suspicion of foreign soldiers marching on distant soils while attempting to “win” local “hearts and minds.”

U.S. Army Private First Class Danny Comley of Camdenton Missouri, assigned to Delta Company 4th Brigade combat team,2-508, 82nd parachute infantry Regiment, receives flowers from an Afghan girl during a patrol in the Arghandab valley in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan February 24, 2010. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Not all are convinced and soldiers are punished by angry Taliban hands triggering roadside bombs that launch lethal gusts of burning hatred and scorched vengeance against all things American. Precious AB-positive, and O-negative bloods are united forever with the same tired dust exhaled by Genghis Khan nearly 900 years ago.

U.S. Marines walk in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, September 2009.

Powerful Improvised Explosive Device’s (IED’s) teach 21st Century soldiers and Marines cruel and unusual lessons of “adaptive” physics from clever schoolmasters born in the dark shadows of the Stone Age.

An entire nation cries after pink mists of sprayed blood rise with clouds of dirt after the calm below a brave soldier, sailor, marine or airman blasts away; a conversation ended instantly. Why can’t blood politely drip to the floor?

A soldier with an injured ankle from the US Army's 1-320 Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division is assisted past his burning M-ATV armored vehicle after it struck an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on a road near Combat Outpost Nolen in the Arghandab Valley in this picture taken July 23, 2010. None of the four soldiers in the vehicle were seriously injured in the explosion.REUTERS/Bob Strong

U.S. Army Sgt. Nickolas Edinger claims Oregon to be his official military “Home of Record,” but was more likely born underneath a lucky star before landing on this planet. He tells an amazing story of denying the grim reaper claim to his life ONLY 29 days earlier in Afghanistan.

Edinger disliked carrying the large machine gun slung across his belt buckle while on patrol because it was too awkward. The weight of bullets and the size of the weapon added 140 extra pounds to his solid 200 pound frame; Edinger loved powerlifting so he justified the extra load as part of his pastime. But, seconds after being knocked down to the ground in the middle of a thick brown cloud Edinger realized hauling heavy metal saved his life when it absorbed the upward blast of the anti-personnel bomb he stepped on moments earlier. “The explosion hollowed out my left foot,” he said.

(GI’s depend on quick medical treatment in the first minutes of the “golden hour” following injury. Hypovolemic shock kills quickly. Aiding and transporting wounded GI’s to field hospitals is crucial.)

U.S. Marines carry an injured colleague to a helicopter near the city of Falluja, November 10, 2004. REUTERS/Eliana Aponte

Hospital personnel attempt to revive a mortally wounded Marine after he was brought in by medevac helicopter at Camp Dwyer near the town of Marjah in Helmand Province August 22, 2010.  REUTERS/Bob Strong

Edinger looked down and cursed before confidently tying a tourniquet above his own knee to stop the life threatening bleeding. While waiting for the medics to arrive the pain increased. “On a scale of 1 to 10 for pain, I know what a 10 is,” he said.

Wounded Army Sgt. Nickolas Edinger relaxes after completing bike ride in Annapolis, Maryland, May 2010.

“I still feel my left foot 24/7…and I feel a precise pain. Like my toe nail is ripping off upwards,” he explained while taking part in a three-day Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride in Annapolis, Maryland this year.
Edinger calls his wound a paper cut while comparing himself to others in the disabled community. Yea, right… a paper cut!

Sounds of rushing Humvees are replaced with the cautious pace of new crutches giving time for broken GI’s to piece together the missing days, weeks, or months after waking up continents away from the geographic point the day began inside quiet hospitals called: ‘Brooks,’ ‘Bethesda,’ ‘Landstuhl,’ or ‘Walter Reed.’ Talks of “amputations,” “Purple Hearts,” “prosthetics” and “pain killers” are done in passing but the personal fears of living a life less than whole remain silent.

All vanity is burned or scraped to the bone for heroic young GI’s left challenged with convincing a lifetime of “first impressions” that beauty is, in fact, only skin deep and not a measurement of accomplishment; a tough task inside a country that adores personal reflections and good looks.

U.S. Army Captain Samuel Brown salutes during a ceremony to disband the Multinational Force Iraq and to introduce the U.S. Force Iraq at Camp Victory in Baghdad January 1, 2010. Brown suffered burns to 30 percent of his body after being struck by an IED while serving with the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division in Kandahar, Afghanistan in September 2008. The San Antonio native is in Iraq to visit his wife Captain Robin Brown and to take part in the"Operation Proper Exit" program which helps combat veterans heal emotional wounds.     REUTERS/Saad Shalash

Nine continuous years of boots on the ground have scattered missing limbs across the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan as enemy trophies while harsh phantom pains are endured forever by men and women where toes, legs, fingers or arms were attached the night before, the day the Earth moved.

Odd fittings replace bones and muscles once packaged inside a tight, flesh wrapper before all went missing; memories of chilled river water refreshing tired feet melt away for GI’s learning to walk again while practicing baby steps balanced on stilted prosthetics.

 U.S. Army Specialist Luis Puertas runs on his prosthetic legs during a Military Advanced Amputee Skills Training workshop at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington June 1, 2007. At the skills training workshop, military personnel who have lost legs during recent conflict showed off the latest in prosthetic limb technology as part of their recovery and in some cases, return to full active duty.     REUTERS/Jason Reed

Sergeant David Emery has his prosthetic leg adjusted by prosthetist during his rehabilitation at the Military Advanced Training Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington October 24, 2007.    REUTERS/Jim Young

The physical and psychological sting of losing a limb is unimaginable and the transition to normal life is a long, lonely journey for GI’s struggling with months of painful rehabilitation. Thanks to animal assisted activities like the Caisson Platoon Equine Assisted Program on Ft. Myer in Arlington, Virginia, military amputees are given the chance to use the reliable strength and steady warmth of a large comfort animal to soften the physical demands while bonding with a horse.

Leg of SSgt Michael Cain before riding horse at Ft. Myer, October 2010.

Co-founders Larry Pence and Mary Jo Beckman, both career military retirees, saw a need for a different type of therapy and convinced the U.S. Army’s famed Old Guard (3rd Infantry) to allow them to borrow their caisson platoon soldiers and horses for therapy rides once each week.

Sgt. Anthony Robinson stretches while on top of horse, October 2010.

Pence explained “if these horses weren’t working with us on Thursday mornings they would be pulling a caisson at a funeral inside Arlington National Cemetery. The caisson platoon soldiers are given an opportunity for ‘soldier to help soldier’… rather than continually burying their fallen comrades they can help them recover. Everyone wins.” The soldiers volunteer as side walkers to protect the rider from falling off the horse.

SSgt Michael Cain is helped by Mary Jo Beckman after riding horse, October 2010.

“The horse’s hip motion while walking is almost identical to the human hip motion at the walk,” says Beckman. “The wounded body gets moved as if he can walk normal. My job is to set the scene and let the horse do its magic.”

SSgt Michael Cain rides a horse, October 2010.

Prayers to Rita, the Saint of the Impossible, go unanswered for older veteran’s still dreaming of ending the lasting pain of their war injuries.

U.S. Army photo of Alan Storetveit in 1969.Meet Vietnam War paraplegic Alan Storetveit. An enemy’s bullet barely missed killing him in 1970 but instead damaged his spinal cord and abruptly ended his walk along the Cambodian border, all on his mother’s birthday.

“It felt like a Mack truck hitting me… knocking the wind out of me,” explained Storetveit about that moment “an intense fire-like feeling… like a hot poker up my spine”. The bullet left him lying on his back “like a snow angel” as he tried desperately to find his rifle. “I expected to see some grinning Asian with a rifle running out of the bush to finish me off”, he said quietly.

He still fights burning pains along his spine after more than 14750 days since colliding with that bullet.

While Storetveit laid helpless and face down on a hospital bed in Japan two days after being shot, his mother was helplessly alone in New York after reading the chilling Army telegram that eliminated confusion about her son’s condition with disturbing punctuality. It read: Alan is presently paraplegic.

Original telegram sent to Alan's parents after he was wounded in Cambodia.

Four simple words translate into an unsettled reminder for aging baby boomers of his selfless sacrifice made during those turbulent years. He proudly honored an “obligation to his nation” while others found reasons to sit. He now sits and watches as his peers walk.

Alan enjoys his dog while at home in August 2010.

A constant, peaceful calm lights Alan’s face through his very gentle eyes. No signs of anger, no bitter outbursts and no resentments about that war’s dark path.

Personal possessions from the war are handled as historical artifacts: photographs displayed inside a worn album shot just hours before Alan’s last stand, his dependable Timex watch, a Purple Heart medal and a handwritten letter from his friend and former platoon leader in Vietnam, 1stLt. Charles Dixson, sent to him while recuperating. Alan and Dixson remain very close friends.

He mentions his only regret being he’ll never dance at his children’s weddings, “I’ll be watching from the table.”

The thought of the Vietnam War frightened an entire generation growing up in 1968 and for those who experienced that war, the fear continues today. Just ask veteran Bob Ness. Ness walked at the lethal tip of a sharp spear of “recon” soldiers hunting down determined American killers hiding deep inside the spider holes below the thick jungle leaves. He made sure enemy bodies dropped quickly around his feet when he aimed his deadly M-16 rifle.

Bob Ness at a U.S. Army firebase in South Vietnam in 1968.

The horrific sights and gruesome smells suppressed for decades by Ness are now easily triggered by the slightest hint of gunpowder; swift flashbacks to the “Kodak” moment his innocence fractured when gulping the thick, bitter, stench of ballooned human bodies baking under the Southeast Asian sun. He remembers how petrified he was stepping over hungry maggots feasting on those rotting soldiers before his first night patrol. “Knee knocking is a true thing… I was so scared I couldn’t turn it off,” he said.

That’s a lot to ask of a teenager, especially one growing up watching television episodes of “Leave it to Beaver” inside happy America. John Wayne was every child’s hero up on the silver screen then but the frightening memories from Ness’s own home movie were never seen while sharing popcorn at the matinee. They’ve remained painfully private for him while playing continuously for forty two years as unwelcome film noir reruns in brilliant Technicolor.

During one intense fight in “Operation Wayne Grey” Ness leaned down to say goodbye to a dying GI, “I teared up… and didn’t cry again for 40 years…” he said.

His friend wasn’t the only American to die that day; the platoon was bloodied at once when 25% of its troops were chewed up in the opening seconds of battle and another 40% were killed in action (KIA) or wounded by the fourth fierce day. Ness received the Purple Heart medal after a speeding bullet’s vicious path ripped through his left hand while advancing into the fight. That is the only reminder of Vietnam he has framed and proudly hanging up at home in Florida.

Purple Heart medal hanging at Ness’s home in Florida.

Demons chasing Ness have been leashed at times through “self medication… to find someplace safe. Drugs, drinking…” He still wakes up afraid every morning at 3 a.m. waiting for attacking North Vietnamese soldiers wanting to kill him. “That was their favorite hour to attack,” he said, and he lays in bed awake all-night once a week reviewing every tiny detail of his 12 months camping out “in country.”

Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospital therapy sessions relieve anxiety from his continued Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, (PTSD), a real problem experienced by combat veterans and gradually being recognized by the VA. (Survivors guilt, depression, spousal abuse, drug use, alcoholism, recklessness and thoughts of suicide are symptoms caused from stress in combat.)

Ness left Vietnam forty years ago but still can’t, and won’t, drive a car over a bridge for fear of being ambushed in the open. “There is no way, I freak out…,” he explained.

War has been called by many names: Uprisings… Conquests… Interventions…. Rebellions… even Revolutions. Ancient soldiers defending the Ottoman Empire faced the same dangers as those advancing behind Napoleon’s charge. Zulu warriors were as reluctant attacking in the light as American farm boys were defending the ridge above the Gettysburg fields. But every grateful nation sets time aside to honor those men and women who bravely defended its’ flag. Some country’s call it “Veteran’s Day,” some say “Remembrance Day,” others say “Armistice Day”. Either way, it’s “their day” to stand tall while a nation says thanks.

Children hold signs for wounded warriors in Annapolis, Maryland, May 2010.

Without the bravery, fearless courage and talent of the following photographers this Reuters project would not exist.

Eliana Aponte
Carlos Barria
Yannis Behrakis
Joel A. Chaverri
Marko Djurica
Chris Helgren
Adrees Latif
Baz Ratner
Saad Shalash
Bob Strong
Goran Tomasevic
Shamil Zhumatov

Additional photography:
Larry Downing
Jonathan Ernst
Kevin Lamarque
Jason Reed
Molly Riley
Shannon Stapleton
Jim Young


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

An amazing body of work showing the depth and quality of our photographers around the world who risk their lives every day to bring the reality of war to all of us. Larry & Jason congrats on a project that shows our multimedia star power. lr

Posted by LarryR | Report as abusive

I was ashamed to have served in Viet Nam until the day I heard my 10 year old son brag to a play mate “My dad was in Viet Nam, he’s a hero” I may not be a hero to others but that does not matter now because what was said about me 22 years ago makes me proud to have worn a uniform and tried to win a war.

Posted by Vietvet1950 | Report as abusive


Your son nailed it. You are a hero, and you should have been treated with the dignity and respect you deserved when you came back home from that awful place. Thank you for your service.

Posted by grateful | Report as abusive

[...] • For Veteran’s Day, Reuters compiled a sobering collection of dozens of photos of the US’s many wounded veterans. [Reuters] [...]

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[...] Not Slowing Duckworth Down. Disabled vets, including Duckworth, were the focus of a Reuters (11/10) photo essay blog. Despite being severely injured in Iraq, Reuters explained, Duckworth’s [...]

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[...] Souvenirs of war [...]

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i work for TR and features like this one make me proud to work for this company.

my grandfather was in patton’s army & he lost both of his legs in France in September of 1944. double amputees rarely survived in WWII, but two men in my grandfather’s troop put their tourniquets on his legs and saved his life. we never got to thank these men because they gave the ultimate sacrifice during the battle of the bulge. my grandmother was engaged to my grandfather when he went to war and she stuck by him after the loss of his limbs. they got married a few weeks after my grandpa received his wooden legs and my dad was a honeymoon baby.

the army actually flew all my grandpas friends from the amputee hospital to the wedding in worchester, ma and i’ve been told that everyone cried the whole ceremony b/c of all the young men that attended with missing limbs. my grandparents wedding party photos are amazing and inspiring.

thank you to all vets. you are true heroes. and thank you to my grandparents, my heroes.

Posted by LibbyH | Report as abusive

This project took a great deal of talent, time, and thought–a great job. Thank you Brack1

Posted by brack1 | Report as abusive

Very moving piece… The photo of the set of soldiers’ crosses for what I presume to have been a memorial for a helicopter crash hit me pretty hard. I’ve lost good friends in this “war on terror”… and those are memories I’ll never be able to relinquish. Knowing that I heard their last words on the radio before they were shot down… hearing their names called out during the roll call at the memorial service… going through every human emotion in the span of just a few minutes… seeing grown men break down and cry who are a hundred times stronger in body and spirit than me. I’ll always carry that with me… But we serve our country full knowing that there are risks involved. Every soldier has a blank check filled out to the United States of America valued up to and including their life. Everyone has a different reason for joining, but once joining they’re all in the same boat which is unfortunately captained by not only our own leadership but the actions of the rest of the world…

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[...] Три последнии фото принадлежат Reuters [...]

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[...] A U.S. Marine leans on the headstone of a comrade recently buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, May 27, 2010. (Photo: Jason Reed / Reuters) [...]

Posted by Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Baghdad Area Bombings Continue | Report as abusive

So sad — for you, and even to this day for us. The wounds, as we know — they are not always visible. They’re hidden deep within the psyche….helping a fellow soldier to safety, even though when that soldier went down that path he was directly disobeying orders – ONE SINGLE EVENT THAT WAS SO TRAUMATIC – SAVING HIM- LIVED ON IN HIS HEAD FOREVER…now, it will live in the heads of his wife and stepson. Thank God for that stepson; at 15 years old, he took on a psychotic PTSD Vietnam Veteran stepfather, whom he dearly loved, having lost his father at four. He had to — he was in the act of stabbing his mother to death in their kitchen. There are heroes everywhere — Soldiers, wives, children…..we never know when we’ll be called on. And all because ONE MAN DISOBEYED THIS SOLDIER’S ORDERS, LEADING HIM AND A “GREEN” SOLDIER TO RUSH THE PATH, THROWING GRENADES FROM HELMETS TO REACH THE PARALYZED

Posted by widowagain | Report as abusive

[...] compared to those returning home from combat so I found a home more deserving. I sent it to the mother of a severely wounded U.S. soldier, Shane Parsons, for him to receive on Christmas morning. Shane not only lost both his legs while [...]

Posted by The secret handshake | Photographers Blog | Report as abusive

[...] Souvenirs of War: Purple Hearts, Prosthetics and Phantom Pains … [...]

Posted by वसुधैव कुटुंबकम – My Dear Bill Plante, I am Barack Obama. | Report as abusive