Monday, October 02, 2006

Mothers, don't let your kids grow up to be soldiers

I'm not even going to try to comment on this. This is the exact word for word story, as it appeared in our local paper.

Mother gets telephone call she never wanted
By LORRAINE HEATH Evening Times Staff Writer (Wed., Sept. 27)
Published: Thursday, September 28, 2006 10:08 AM CDT

LITTLE FALLS — It is a military mother’s worst fear — the phone call notifying them their son has been injured.

For Georgia Tucci of Little Falls, it was a time she will never forget. Her son, Daniel Barnes, a 1995 graduate of Little Falls High School, and a soldier in the infantry serving in Iraq, was severely injured when a grenade went off inside the Humvee he was sitting in with three friends.

The blast took both of his legs and sent him to recover in a Texas hospital. His mother just returned from being with her son.

“Every time the phone would ring, that was my first thought, that Dan was injured and they were calling me. That night, however, when the phone rang, that was not my first thought for some reason. When I heard the voice on the other end say, ‘Your son has been injured and has lost both his legs,’ I screamed and fell on the floor saying ‘No, No, No,’ over and over again,” Tucci said. That phone call was received on Labor Day, September 4.

For the next four days, Tucci was in a void, where information about her son was limited. “They said he was taken to a hospital in Baghdad and from there he was being sent to a hospital in Germany. All they would say was, ‘He is in very serious, but stable condition.’ What that meant, I could not find out,” she said.

Barnes was serving his second tour in Iraq, and was scheduled to leave the country in 52 days. Tucci said her son had 14 missions left, so she began to not worry quite so much.

“I figured he was almost done and he would leave Iraq soon,” she said.

As sleep eluded her, Tucci spent most of her time on the phone, trying to find out something, anything, about her son’s condition. All she knew was that he had surgery and that he would be coming back to the U.S. She got her first piece of news on Wednesday morning, September 6.

“They called at about 2 or 3 a.m. and said he was finally on his way to Germany, and listed him in critical, but stable condition. The next day they said he was still on his way to Germany. Finally, I called an 800-number and went off on the poor guy that answered the phone,” Tucci said.

Her not knowing how her son was, compounded by the lack of information, finally grew inside, and her release was yelling at someone who was not at fault. Tucci said she felt bad, but her tirade got her results — she was patched through to his nurse. “She said that yes, he did lose his legs, but his vital signs were very good,” Tucci said. That little piece of information was more than she had received until then.

It was not long after the Army called and told her to get a passport. The Army was flying Tucci and her ex-husband to Germany.

Tucci said she ran around like crazy as she packed and got passport photos. Later, the Army called and said her son was coming to the U.S. on Friday, so she would fly to Washington instead. She was told they would contact her Saturday with the details. At around 8 a.m., they did.

“We arrived in San Antonio, Texas, at 8 p.m. that night,” she said.

Her son was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center, a place that specializes in amputee care.

It was at the hospital that finally the moment that took five long days to arrive happened — she entered her son’s hospital room.

“There were tubes sticking out all over him and I thought ‘My God, he is only half there.’ He was unconscious, but a tear was trickling down the side of his face,” Tucci said.

Tucci said she began to learn more about the grenade that almost took her son’s life. “He and three others were sitting on the side of the road in the Humvee when a hand-held grenade was launched through the window on the passenger side, exploding between the passenger and driver. My son was sitting in the front passenger seat. A Sergeant or a Private Allen pulled him out and saved his life. She put tourniquets on his legs to stop the bleeding. His left leg was worse and his left arm was singed a little. Someone was watching over him that day,” she said. “I keep thinking about everything else that could have happened.”

She said her son remembered everything immediately after the explosion and was aware of what had happened to his legs.

“He doesn’t remember anything after that until he awoke. They kept him pretty heavily sedated,” Tucci said.

The other three men in the Humvee were also injured, but not to the extent of Barnes.

Little by little, Tucci said, her son began to improve. They had to take him to surgery to remove more of his right leg due to an infection. Both legs are now gone above the knee. Shortly after his surgery, he was moved to the “step down unit,” where he remains today.

On September 18, Barnes celebrated his 29th birthday.

“His brother and sisters were flown down thanks to an organization called the Fisher Foundation. What this group does is, through donations of frequent flyer miles, provide plane tickets for family members to visit their loved ones. With all of us there, we had pizza for Dan’s birthday in his room. His two boys were also there, whom he saw for the first time on September 16. He seemed upset at first, but then said ‘I am glad you are all here,’” Tucci said.

Barnes, his mother said, is now able to get himself in and out of bed and even went to the cafeteria with his parents for dinner.

Although her son will never be the same, he has an incredible outlook at the road he now faces.

“I talked with his wife and he was doing push-ups and sit-ups and the doctors are very impressed with how far he has come,” she said.

Tucci said the one thing that has helped her cope with all that has happened was that she was not alone at the hospital.

Many mothers were also in the same place she was — waiting for their children to recover. “No one realizes how many of our men and women are coming back from Iraq with arms and legs missing. How many have been burned that you know there is a face there, but you can’t see it. And then there are those who have no physical wounds, but are in a hospital due to emotional wounds that run so very deep inside. We never hear about the injured, only the dead,” Tucci said.

She relied on those other mothers and swapped stories with them about their sons or daughters.
“It was kind of nice knowing I wasn’t the only one,” she said.

Barnes was sent to Iraq for his first tour of duty about two years ago. He left in November for his second tour.

Between the two tours, Tucci said her son has been injured twice before, first by shrapnel, the second, a concussion.

“When he left for Iraq I told him to make sure he takes care of himself. He told me, ‘Mom, this is my job. This is what I signed up for.’ They never think it can happen to them,” Tucci said. She said her son also told her that compared to his first tour, the second was far worse.

“I just don’t think this is worth all the pain,” she said about the war in Iraq. “I have seen so many injured with arms and legs missing. There was one mother whose son had died the day we got to the hospital. It just isn’t worth all this.”

Tucci said eventually she had to come home, although she could have stayed until October 8 according to her “orders” from the Army.

Due to starting a new job, she came home just this past week. But her thoughts are never far from her son and his family.

“I lay in bed at night and think about what could have happened, how his injuries could have been so much worse,” she said.

She also thinks about the last time she communicated with him, the Sunday morning before the grenade.

“I talked to him as often as I could via the Internet and Sunday morning, Sept. 3, I did as well. His last words were, ‘Well gotta go. Love you mom.’ The next day was just such a shock,” Tucci said.

Tucci said her son is improving everyday, and admits she is taking the loss of his legs harder than he is.

“They told him when he is fitted for his artificial legs he can be as tall as he wants. He said six feet is what he wants to be. He is adjusting very well, and as long as he can hunt and fish, his two most favorite things to do, he will be just fine,” she said.

She stays in touch with Barnes and his family by telephone and through, a website started by Barnes’ wife, Gretchen. At the site, she writes a journal about her husband’s progress and how things are going. The September 26 entry said, “Yesterday at therapy he worked on learning on how to get from his wheelchair to the floor and back into his chair. He said it was very hard. But I’m sure in a few days of practice he will have it mastered with no problem. He is so determined to get better and as soon as he can!!”

Tucci said anyone who wishes to write a message to her son and family needs to just log onto the site, click on “visit a caringbridge website” and type in danielbarnes.

Tucci expects Barnes will stay in the hospital for at the very least six months. She said his plans following his stay are up in the air.

“One minute he says he wants to stay in the military, the next day he doesn’t. He is alive, and that’s all that matters to me,” she said.

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