The Magazine

Three Years and Counting

Why is the Pentagon withholding Purple Hearts from deserving recipients?

Mar 20, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 25 • By JIM LACEY
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On the night of the grenade attack, Stone's tent was directly beside mine. Everyone assumed, at first, that terrorists had attacked from outside the camp and that they were still in the area. The fact that Akbar shot two soldiers as they exited their tents reinforced this impression and convinced us all that there was still considerable danger. Disregarding that danger dozens of soldiers rushed to help those injured.

Despite the risk, one young medic ran several hundred yards in the pitch black to get his medical bag from a vehicle packed for the invasion and raced back with it. Others immediately entered the tents and began taking out the wounded. A major went to the operations tent, ordered medical evacuation helicopters, and alerted the nearby hospital trauma center. I was never sure of the exact timing, but I doubt more than 15 minutes passed between the attack and when helicopters arrived to rush the injured away. The efforts made by the soldiers, doctors, and surgeons that night were truly heroic. There was nothing more that could have been done to save the lives lost.

Before undertaking my duties as a journalist that night, I did help carry out some of the wounded, including Major Stone. He may not have known how badly wounded he was, because he began to push the medics away, and though I could not hear what he was saying, I could hear the medics reply: "No, sir we have to take care of you" and "Everyone is being taken care of. Let us work on you." It was clear he was trying to get the medics to go help the other wounded men.

I wrote to Tammy Hall that I had spoken to family members of others that were seriously injured that night. All of them seemed to be truly bothered by the fact that it was another soldier who did this, and many said that it would have been easier to understand if it was a terrorist attack. But I told her then, and I believe the trial of Akbar amply showed, that the man who killed her brother was not a soldier; he was, in fact, a terrorist.

Three years is a long time to wait. Two soldiers were killed and 14 wounded by a terrorist when they went, at the behest of their country and without reservation, too fight a war in a foreign land. Is it to much to ask of the U.S. military that these men and their wounded comrades from that night finally be awarded the Purple Heart?

Jim Lacey covered the Iraq war as a correspondent for Time magazine.