I was in Washington Wednesday and while there I visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center and spoke with a number of amputees disabled while defending us in Iraq.
I was fascinated by the attitude of these brave men and women who have sacrificed so much in our behalf. Their outlook on life is uplifting. You see nobody with tears in their eyes. Every single one of them has a positive attitude that is absolutely inspiring. One young man to whom I spoke had just been accepted for admission to a university in Washington, D.C. where he plans to study international business. The fact that he lost an arm in Iraq has not deterred him one little bit. He has his eyes on then future.
I saw so many men and women missing arms and legs, and every one of them had positive outlooks, largely thanks to the way they are being cared for and nurtured at Walter Reed. I was also deeply impressed by how the Department of Veterans Affairs is working with them and contributing to the positive attitude the vets display.
I was deeply impressed by those who despite their disability expressed a desire to go back and serve with their comrades still fighting in Iraq. And I spoke to one young man who is struggling to get well enough so he’ll be able to be there to greet his unit when it comes home from Iraq. These are men and women who make you proud to be part of a nation that produces such magnificent people.
I couldn’t help thinking about all the things being done at Walter Reed for these heroes who deserve all that a grateful nation can do for them – things that are just phenomenal and have never before been done for disabled veterans of past wars.
Thanks to incredible advances in technology, many seriously disabled veterans are being brought back into the mainstream of life where they can do just about everything they could do before losing limbs. Many are overcoming disabilities that would depress most of us were we to suffer from, yet they refuse to give up the struggle to live as near-normal lives as possible.
A couple of weeks ago my wife Colleen ran in the New York Marathon. Participating in that marathon in wheelchair events where a lot of amputees. I watched all of them cross the finish line while I waited for Colleen to finish, and I met two of those I had seen in the marathon during my visit to Walter Reed.
I can’t help recalling the post-World War II movie “The Best Years of Our Lives,”‘ where the question was posed as to how those disabled on the battlefield would be treated on their return to civilian life and how they would cope with their disabilities. In those days, prosthesis – the creation of artificial arms and legs – was only in its infancy and although the artificial limbs were useful, they left a lot to be desired when it came to performing the most rudimentary tasks.
As a result, in those days, the transition to civilian life for the disabled was difficult and I hope and pray that this won’t be the case with Iraq war veterans. I hope that we in normal society will be able to be as positive in our outlook concerning them as they are about themselves. After all, with the marvels of technology, most of these heroic men and women will be able to do just about everything the non-disabled can do.
It is incumbent upon every one of us to look upon these veterans with the respect they have earned by their service to the nation and the losses they suffered to safeguard our freedoms. We must treat them as fellow human beings who made great sacrifices for us – and not simply as amputees, not as people with a disability – and consider what they can contribute to society whether it be in the workplace, or in homes as husbands or wives, or wherever it might be. They need and want our respect, not our pity. Winning that respect might be the biggest war they face, and it is up to us to see they win it.
©2005 Mike Reagan. If you’re not a paying subscriber to our service, you must contact us to print or web post this column. Mike’s column is distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Cari Dawson Bartley email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561