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September 07, 2006

Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers. The title of a new book (out this October) by Time Magazine's Michael Weisskopf, one of the co-writers of the Time Person of the Year article that featured US troops.

Also known as "The reporter who ate the grenade."

I actually finished the book last week, but have taken a week to digest it. Why? Because the book roused great emotions in me.

Mike Weisskopf lost his hand the night a grenade bounced into the HMMWV he was riding in. He picked it up, and tossed it out of the vehicle - and it blew up pretty much in his hand, blowing it off - but, incidentally, saving the lives of the soldiers in the vehicle.

I say incidentally on purpose - because an important sub-theme of the book is Weisskopf coming to grips with that act. An act characterized as heroism by those he saved and others around him - but the title of hero is not one he's comfortable with. If you wish to see how, if at all, he resolves that - well, you'll have to read the book, won't you?

With that as an opener, you then follow the stories of three other amputees -Pete Damon, Luis Rodriguez, and Bobby Isaacs - from their injuries through their travails as healthy young men maimed in the prime of their lives.

Since Weisskopf was wounded early in the Iraq campaign, you also get a glimpse at the transformation for the staff of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, as they shift from treating geriatric patients at the end of their lives to treating young, fit men, suddenly discomfited in their prime. And the differences are wrenching, and the toll on staff and family is laid bare. As is the courage of these people, and too, the occasional failure of courage, and the impacts. In this, Weisskopf is unsparing.

You'll get to meet Stumpy, Ralph, and Pretty Boy - so doing, get some insight to the process of healing, acceptance, coping and adaptation - not just for the amputees, but those around them, as well.

I had to put the book down, time and time again, as I felt rushes of guilt. Why? Weisskopf was wounded early in the war, and was finished with the bulk of his rehab process before we got Project Valour-IT started. No one's fault - it was established as a result of milblogger CPT Z's wounding, when the need suddenly burst into the open, via Carin's blogging for Chuck, which turned Fuzzybear Lioness into a dynamo of organization.

But as I read, and the nature of their challenges sunk in, I just couldn't help but think, man, we started late! And it bothered me, a lot.

Oddly enough, there is a passage from the book - appropriately coming at the end, where an epiphany for Mike Weisskopf became an epiphany for me. It comes about as the result of a chat with the psychiatrist, Hal Wain. I'll let Mike tell you:

Lying awake that night, I was reminded of one of Wain's comments. I had been expressing my frustration about the fact that such a major ordeal had seemed to have so little effect on me - I was still the same impatient, competitive, and sefl-critical person I'd always been. If I had acted so nobly, why didn't I feel more content? Wain's response at the time struck me as somewhat facile: rather than bring about change, he said, the good deed had left me angry at myself. "You're thinking you could have done the same thing and didn't have to lose the hand. You love a perfect win, and didn't get that perfect victory that you wanted and maybe deserved."

As I tossed and turned in the early hours of Independence Day, the simple truth of the psychologists words hit me. It was true: I was mad at myself for failing to pull off a clean sweep. And it was that anger that was preventing me form savoring the achievement of a lifetime: saving my own skin and that of three others. My failure to get rid of the grenade before it exploded was only the first in a long list of wrongs I would have to pardon before I could finally put the ordeal behind me.

Weisskopf goes on to explain that in terms of what he terms "The Prize" - which is the rest of his life, and those of Damon, Rodriguez, and Isaacs.

I too took a lesson from it, as Mike had expressed something I too did, in my completely-trivial-in-comparison way - my emotions from reading the book were similar in scope - I was angry with myself because we started so late with Project Valour-IT.

Which means I too wasn't letting myself take solace in the fact that we did get it started, and we can serve (and have served) those who were wounded and moved on before we got the program up and running.

And many, many of you are a part of that, too.

And you should read this book - so you to can get a real sense of having been part of something capital-G good.

I've got other things to say about the book, but I'll do those in later posts.

And if you haven't given to Project Valour-IT lately - it's never too late to top off, or just get started.

I got an advanced reader's copy of the book, it's scheduled for publication in October. This blog doesn't have the reach of Matt, or Greyhawk, but it does give me a chance to do things like PVIT, get review copies of books, and have email chats with people like Mike Weisskopf. All for about $40 a month.

Cheap at twice the price.

What follows is a listing of people you should know - and will, if you read the book. In no particular order or grouping - this is as much for the named individuals, if they ever google themselves, or for kids researching a book report... well, their names are up here, and tied to the book. What the heck, it's the least I can do - if you're going to be in Google, this is a good thing to be tied to, methinks.

Michael Weisskopf, Jenn Damon, Pete Damon, Rebekah Edminster, Luis Rodriguez, Lilliam Rodriguez, Bobby Isaacs, Derick Hurt, Victor Vorobyev, Kathleen Yancosek, Skyler Weisskopf, Olivia Weisskopf, Andy McCaffrey, Justin LaFerrier, Isatta Jackson, John Gonsalves, Joe Miller, John Miguelez, Mike Curtin, Chuck O'Brien, Nicholas Cutcher, Krystal, Pat Isaacs, Jack Cox, Renee Cox, Jordan Caldwell, Dorian Perez, Maria Bueche, Paul Bueche, PJ Bueche, Marianne Pearl, Ibrahim Kabbah, Mary Miles, Jim Beverly, Orion Jenks, Ron Buxton, Jim Nachtwey, Billie Grimes, Ramesh Pratnesar, Brian Bennett, Sam al-Hillali, Howard Chu-Eoan, Nina McCoy, Leslie Flesch, Allura Damon, Danny Damon, Melanie Damon, Andy Friedman, Tammy LaFrancois, Marci Stillerman, Judith Katz, John Zenie, Jim Mayer, Hal Koster, James Nicholas, Tami Barr, James Fair, Heath Callahan, Aunt Julia, Jerry the Rockclimber, David Maraniss, Thomas Hinger, Marje Hoban, Hal Wain, Katrina Fair, Maurice Craft, Andrea Craft,