Iraq Forever

by francine Hardaway on September 15, 2007

I am spending a quiet afternoon watching Alive Day Memories, a documentary about the wounded in Iraq that I didn’t get a chance to see when HBO originally aired it a week or two ago. It has been a truly shocking hour for me.

It’s the story of ten people who came home from Iraq physically and emotionally destroyed, though still technically alive. One is blind, several have post-traumatic stress disorder to the point where they can”t remember the names of their own children and wake up from dreams where they bit someone’s throat out. Many have no legs., and one woman has no right arm and shoulder. With the exception of one guy who is 41, the rest are in their early twenties. They will live most of their lives with their infirmities and their memories. There haven’t been this many wounded soldiers returning from a war since the Civil War. We have saved their lives, but what will their lives be like???

James Gandolfini interviews these people and shares their stories. As impactful as any of their individual tales are the shots of him, sitting patiently waiting while they cry or struggle with words, embracing them at the end of the interview, introducing himself as “Jim.” I get the feeling this was incredibly difficult for him, a middle-aged man with all his limbs and faculties intact looking at all these young lives upended by violence.

The kids, and most of them are little more than kids, seem to have developed an enormous sense of responsibility to and for each other, and a tremendous love for the country that sent them to war. They all feel that they were, in a way, reborn on the day they got hit: it is called their “Alive Day” — the day they realized they didn’t get killed.

Gandolfini leads the blind veteran offstage. We watch the injured pledging allegiance to the flag. The war goes into its fifth year. Bush goes on doing whatever he wants. Congress goes on doing nothing. And I wonder how the voters feel about staying in Iraq forever.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Cynthia September 18, 2007 at 4:53 pm

I agree, it’s very sad. One of my young cousins was killed in Iraq a few weeks ago. His funeral was last Saturday in Illinois.

His name was Keith, he was 26, he was doing his 2nd tour of duty in Iraq as a gunner on a tank. They had to go down a street that was too narrow for a tank so they were in a HumVee when an insurgent threw a bomb into the vehicle. He didn’t have a chance.

Keith was a great kid, and I’m sure all the others over there are too. But I knew Keith. He got married last summer and his wife is pregnant. She is due to deliver a little boy in November.

I don’t want us there for 40 or 50 years like we have been in Germany since WWII, but I don’t want us to lose this war either. All the kids who have lost their lives, like Keith, and the others that are wounded have to have made these sacrifices for something. Their families are suffering too.

Keith’s soon to be born son will only know him through pictures and other peoples memories.

The whole issue is numbing to me.


francine September 18, 2007 at 5:22 pm

That sucks…and yes, I find it numbing as well, too.

Mike September 19, 2007 at 7:29 am

Absolutely agree with the observation “We have saved their lives, but what will their lives be like?” but you lose me when you say that there haven’t been this many wounded since the civil war. WWII saw 670,846 wounded over 44 months – that’s over 15,000 a month. (See

What is different about the Iraq wounded is not the absolute numbers but the number of catastrophically wounded who have survived. Body armor, along with modern medical care, has allowed a greater number of soldiers to survive woundings that, in prior wars, would have been fatal. This makes your main point (“what will their lives be like?) even stronger – so there was no need to include the suspect statistical reference.

francine hardaway September 19, 2007 at 8:13 am

That’s what I meant: the proportion of wounded who survived, compared to the number killed. We have the technology to save lives, but not limbs. I wrote quickly and inaccurately. Thanks for the heads up.

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