Wednesday, November 12, 2003
PORTLAND, Ore. - Believing her son's heroics have been mistaken for those of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, an Oregon mother has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn details of his death at the hands of Iraqi soldiers.
Arlene Walters said she believes her son, Sgt. Donald Walters, fought alone on a dusty street in Nasiriyah until he was overrun, shot and stabbed to death on March 23, in the same battle that injured Lynch.
Walters, 66, filed the request for documents or interview transcripts that contributed to a 15-page Army report on the ambush released in July.
"He stayed out there and gave up his life for his country," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Salem.
"I want him to have credit for it. I want them to say, 'yeah, that was Donald Walters out there,'" she said.
Her questions about Donald Walters' death have gone unanswered, she said, although she believes details of how he went down shooting were earlier leaked by the U.S. military and erroneously described as a heroic stand by Lynch. Lynch has since said she did not fire a shot.
The Army has not intentionally withheld details of Walters' death, said spokeswoman Jean Offutt at Fort Bliss, Texas, where the 507th Maintenance Company was based.
"The fact is, nobody really knows," how Walters died, she said. "You can't say something is true unless you have a reliable eyewitness."
Arlene Walters said the autopsy of her son led her to believe he had been mistaken for Lynch. Donald Walters died from gunshots and two stab wounds to the abdomen, his mother said. Lynch was initially said to have gone down shooting and to have suffered stab wounds.
Arlene Walters said Sgt. Major David Seibel at Fort Bliss acknowledged in private telephone conversations that the Lynch reports may have been based on information about her son.
He said, however, that because there were no American witnesses to his death, the military cannot be certain and cannot issue a formal report, according to Arlene Walters.
"All they kept saying was 'ma'am, we don't have an American witness to what went on," said Arlene Walters, a retired typist.
A telephone request to speak with Seibel was not immediately answered Wednesday.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Kevin Curry in Washington said he did not know specifically what Walters' family was told.
"It's Army policy to present as much detail as possible to next of kin, so they get the official word rather than hear it from the media," he said.
Donald Walters was a passenger in a supply truck that was the first in the convoy to be disabled, according to the Army report on the ambush that killed 11 American soldiers and left six as captives in the opening days of the war last spring.
Another truck, a water carrier, pulled alongside. Pvt. Brandon Sloan climbed into that truck, but Walters remained behind on the dirt road, the Army report said. He was alone and swarmed by Iraqi attackers, but apparently did not surrender.
"There is some information to suggest that a U.S. soldier that could have been Walters fought his way south on Highway 16 toward the canal and was killed in action," the Army report said.
In the Freedom of Information Act request, Arlene Walters asked for the source of that information, because Army officials have said no U.S. soldiers saw Walters after he was left on the street.
Walters said she filled out a form she downloaded from an American Civil Liberties Union Web site and mailed it to several military addresses. One copy was returned as improperly addressed, she said.
Offutt, the Fort Bliss spokeswoman, said the information may have come from an Iraqi source, such as a fighter who witnessed the battle and was later captured by U.S. forces.
She said no one has officially said that Donald Walters and Lynch maybe have been confused for one another.
Arlene Walters lives with her husband Norman in a one-story house with a flag pole in the front yard. She said she has a gold star in her window with her son's name on it.
She said she is angered that the military released information gleaned from Iraqi sources to the public - to provide alleged details of Jessica Lynch's ordeal - but will not release what she believes is the same information to a mother about her son's death.
AP Wire | 11/12/2003 | A mother fights to learn details of her son's death