SALEM, Ore. — Ever since a group of Iraqis told me last year about seeing a redheaded American soldier who was captured, held naked and then executed, I've been haunted by the question of his identity.
The first clues were in Nasiriya, Iraq, where in the aftermath of the war I interviewed the doctors and hospital staff who had cared for Pfc. Jessica Lynch. They said that the Pentagon had exaggerated the drama of her rescue, but what I could never put out of my mind was their tale of another American, whose name they never knew.
Abdul Hadi, an ambulance driver, tried to pick up a male American P.O.W. being held by Saddam Fedayeen. The American, he said, had been stripped naked and handcuffed, but he was allowed to smoke a cigarette while under guard....
The hospital staff said the guards refused to give up the American and threatened the ambulance crew with guns and grenades. So the ambulance retreated - and several hours later, the same P.O.W. was brought to the hospital as a corpse, shot dead.
.... I heard about Sgt. Donald Walters. He was a cook who vanished in the same firefight in which Jessica Lynch was captured, and his body was later recovered in Nasiriya....
It also seems that the heroism originally attributed to Private Lynch may actually have been Sergeant Walters's. Iraqi radio intercepts had described a blond U.S. soldier fighting tenaciously, and the Army this year awarded him a posthumous Silver Star in implicit acknowledgment that he was probably that soldier.
The citation reads: "His actions and selfless courage under fire resulted in saving lives of several other members of the convoy" - perhaps including Private Lynch. His cover fire allowed fellow soldiers to escape, while he remained alone in a hostile city; when he ran out of ammunition, he ran but was captured....
Sergeant Walters left three children, then 9 months, 6 years and 8 years old. A veteran of the first gulf war, he had re-enlisted out of patriotism after 9/11...
...When hawks say that the Iraq war was worth the price, they should remember that that price is measured in the lives of people like Don Walters, forever young, forever heroes, forever gone.
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Don Walters: the unknown hero of the Private Lynch story
The New York Times > Opinion > Kristof: Unbearable Emptiness
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