Wednesday, November 12, 2003
'Bravery' Of Private Jessica
By Julian Coman
The Telegraph - UK
WASHINGTON -- As she watched Private Jessica Lynch's emotional homecoming on television last week, Arlene Walters struggled to suppress her growing anger.
For millions of Americans, Pte Lynch's first faltering steps in her home town of Elizabeth, West Virginia, were a moment of high emotion, a happy ending to one of the darkest incidents of the Iraq war.
For Mrs Walters, however, the standing ovation and praise lavished on the young woman soldier, who was captured by Iraqi forces and later freed in a dramatic American raid, served only to highlight the contrasting treatment of her dead son, who fought in the same unit.
It was, fellow soldiers have told her, Sgt Donald Walters who performed many of the heroics attributed to Pte Lynch in the fanfare of publicity designed to lift the nation's morale, and Sgt Walters who was killed after mounting a lone stand against the Iraqis who ambushed their convoy of maintenance vehicles near Nasiriyah.
Yet few, if any, of the Americans watching Pte Lynch's homecoming last week have even heard her son's name. "The military tell us that everyone who was in her unit was a hero," Mrs Walters told The Telegraph. "In fact they have singled out Jessica Lynch as the hero, and they are not giving the recognition to my son that he deserves.
"The fighter that they thought was Jessica Lynch was Donald. When he was found he had two stab wounds in the abdomen, and he'd been shot once in the right leg and twice in the back. And he'd emptied his rounds of ammunition. Just like they said Jessica had done at first."
Sgt Walters, a 33-year-old military cook from Oregon, blond and slim but not a photogenic female warrior, had been serving with the ill-fated 507th Maintenance Unit, in which Jessica Lynch was a supply clerk.
In the days following the elaborately staged rescue of Pte Lynch from her hospital ward on April 1, a blizzard of American media reports told how the soldier had exhausted all her ammunition before capture, in an isolated and brave "fight to the death".
They suggested that it was only after a prolonged battle, in which she was shot and stabbed, that she was eventually taken prisoner. In all, 11 soldiers were killed and six captured. It subsequently emerged, however, that the young soldier's rifle had jammed and her injuries were caused by her lorry colliding with another vehicle as the convoy came under attack.
Last week, with no fanfare, the US Army released a detailed report into the incident which makes it clear that a lone American fighter did, indeed, hold out against the Iraqis - but that the soldier was not Pte Lynch. It says that following the ambush, Sgt Walters may have been left behind, hiding beside a disabled tractor-trailer, as Iraqi troops closed in. The report confirms that he died of wounds identical to those first attributed to Pte Lynch.
"There is some information to suggest that a US soldier, that could have been Walters, fought his way south of Highway 16 towards a canal and was killed in action. Sgt Walters was in fact killed at some point during this portion of the attack. The circumstances of his death cannot be conclusively determined."
Fellow soldiers who witnessed the ambush have been less guarded. "One told me that if I read reports about a brave female soldier fighting, those reports were actually about Don," said Mrs Walters.
"The information about what had happened had been taken by the military from intercepted Iraqi signals, and the gender had gotten mixed up. He was certain that the early reports had mixed up Jessica and Don."
Mrs Walters and her husband are now struggling to persuade the US military to acknowledge fully their son's bravery. Sgt Walters has been posthumously awarded the bronze medal, but his relatives argue that higher honours are deserved. The army says the investigation into the incident is now closed.
"I just can't imagine him being left out there in the desert alone," said Mrs Walters, who is still haunted by images of her son's lone stand.
"I'm not trying to take anything away from Jessica. We just want Don to get the credit he is entitled to for his bravery."
She has her own theories about the Army's reluctance to give him due credit. "Perhaps the army don't want to admit to the fact that he was left behind in the desert to fight alone," she said. "It isn't a good news story."
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003.
The Real Hero Behind The 'Bravery' Of Private Jessica