In Iraq, a bullet to the spine turned Tomas Young’s world upside down. But on his return to the United States, he became a vocal critic of the war in which he had fought and all US wars, as well as an outspoken advocate for better care for veterans — all while facing catastrophic injuries of his own. In Tomas Young’s War, veteran Mark Wilkerson tells this powerful story of tragedy and sacrifice. Order your copy with a donation to Truthout today.
The following is the foreword to Tomas Young’s War, written by Phil Donahue:
Tomas Young’s long flight from a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, to Walter Reed near Washington, DC, left his paralyzed body with the beginnings of pressure sores that exposed raw bone at spots where no oxygen reached the skin. A bald spot on the back of his head marked the place where gravity pressed it against the airplane cot on which his drugged, inert body was borne back to the States.
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When Tomas finally came to, his first view was his mother’s face looming over him. “Mommy,” he cried, confirming a story I once heard an Army commander tell: when the soldier is hit, the immediate plea is for mother, not soon — right now. “Mommy,” two syllables. Tomas was suddenly five years old. Mommy and Tomas wept together for half an hour.
The bullet that felled Tomas in Sadr City severed his spine at the T4 level. Standing next to his bed at Walter Reed, his mother Cathy Smith explained that her son was now paralyzed from the nipples down. Below the chest he is totally without control or sensation, a rag doll. Tomas can’t cough, Tomas can’t walk, and — in the language of the Army barracks — Tomas “can’t get it up.”
I am looking down at a twenty-four-year-old male in the prime of his life. He has just left a world of singles bars to enter a life imprisoned on a mattress surrounded by books, CDs, marijuana bongs, Rolling Stone magazines, books by Hunter Thompson, and pill boxes containing scores of medications — and additional pills to correct the side effects of the other pills.
The story that follows that first meeting at Walter Reed includes a marriage that ended, a new marriage that blossomed, and a pulmonary embolism that impaired Tomas’s speech and closed his hands so severely he could not hold silverware. On rare visits to the outdoors, Tomas’s new wife would search restaurant space for dark corners where she could feed him without being stared at. In the last years of his life, Tomas wore a bag that captured body waste. He could no longer consume food orally; a pureed nutrient was injected into his stomach via a portal attached to his abdomen. It seemed to Tomas that all the commercials on TV were for food — delicious food.
The five years I spent creating the documentary of his life became a chapter of mine. This was a spiritual experience for all who worked on the film I created with Ellen Spiro, Body of War. None of us had ever been this close to an injury so severe it alters the lives of the whole family. When I first visited Tomas in his hometown of Kansas City my purpose was made clear: “Tomas, I want to show what the ‘harm’ in ‘harm’s way’ really means.” “I do too,” he said.
What follows on these pages is Mark Wilkerson’s compelling account of a warrior turned anti-warrior. The challenges met by Tomas’s second wife Claudia make a love story as tender as any found on a library shelf. Amid the unpleasant realities of urinary tract infections, hollow bedsores, leaking urine bags, failed erections, a collapsing marriage, and blinding loneliness, Wilkerson finds a story of love, hope, and fierce loyalty.
Mark also brilliantly renders a true account that includes all the depression, thoughts of suicide, backaches, nausea, and vomit. Agonies never witnessed by the “bring it on” boys who boasted of their toughness by calling a war, then sending other people’s kids to fight it.
Before another commander in chief swaggers before the news cameras and declares “Bring it on,” I want them to read this book.
And remember, the tragedy of Tomas Young detailed in the pages that follow is the same drama now under way in thousands of homes in this country, homes occupied by a family member who, like Tomas, returned home from this unprovoked, unconstitutional, unnecessary Iraq war, troops with a catastrophic injury that changed the lives of every member of their family — forever. They are the personal tragedies unseen by the more than 95 percent of Americans who made no personal sacrifice in what was the most sanitized war of my lifetime.
Copyright (2016) by Mark Wilkerson. Not to be reproduced without permission of the publisher, Haymarket Books.