December 29, 2005 -- La Canada Valley Sun


By Anita Susan Brenner

Joshua Sparling is a 24-year-old soldier from Port Huron, Michigan, who was wounded six weeks ago in Iraq.

Pfc. Sparling has been undergoing multiple surgeries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C. He was in the news this month when he received a Christmas card addressed to "any soldier" at Walter Reed. The card did not contain good tidings. Instead, the writer expressed the desire that the recipient die from his wounds.

This was Pfc. Sparling's first card for Christmas 2005, so he taped the card to the wall, right where he could see it. He did it for "motivation." Pfc. Sparling reckoned that every time he looked at the card, he would be motivated to get well.

Unfortunately, the card was not the first such incident.

Last summer, an anti-war group called "Code Pink Women for Peace" began to target wounded soldiers and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Code Pink applied for and obtained protest permits from the District of Columbia police department.

Week after week, always on Fridays, the demonstrators positioned themselves directly in front of the main entrance to the hospital grounds. They focused on Friday afternoons and evenings because this was the time when out-of-town families were most likely to visit their wounded soldiers, sailors and marines. The demonstrators brought mock caskets. They carried signs that said, "Maimed for a lie" and "Wounded for Halliburton."

Imagine your son or daughter enlists after September 11th. Maybe you are happy about it. Maybe not. Then, your child is deployed. You put a blue star in your living room window. Few other families in your town have a blue star. People ask you what it means and you explain that the blue star is for a family member on active duty, deployed to the war zone.

You pray a lot. You send care packages. You put three television sets in the family room, each tuned to a different cable news station. One night, you get the phone call. You are one of the lucky ones. Your son or daughter did not die, they were merely wounded.

At Bethesda, I met a family from Georgia. On Thursday nights, the mom baked pies. Every other Friday, just after dawn, the whole family piled into the van. They took turns driving. Ten hours each way. Ten hours to Bethesda from Georgia to visit their wounded son.

Some folks can take a leave of absence from work. They catch Jet Blue to Dulles. They try to stay for the long haul. Then the bills begin to mount.

Imagine that one Friday afternoon you arrive at the hospital. You turn into the main entrance, in your airport rental car, or in the family van filled to the brim with stuffed animals and snacks. You are tired from the journey.

You wait in a line of cars to go through the check point. That's when you see them. Flag-draped coffins. Demonstrators. Signs that say, "Enlist here to die for oil."

Inside the hospital, it is a different world. One often hears the phrase "Marine Corps family," "Army family," or "Navy family," which does not refer to any individual family, but to this new world inside the hospital, where people treat your family like part of one extended family.

The nurses and orderlies, all young people on active duty, greet you each day. Without fail, they greet you by name.

When you get lost on the way to the cafeteria, the staff, including officers, stop to escort you to your destination.

Surgeons tell you, "Last night, I prayed for your son."

And then, after the second or third surgery, the first card arrives. It is addressed to "any soldier" in a child-like script. It is a pretty card, but the message is despicable.

The card tells your son or your daughter to die.

The First Amendment guarantees all of us the right to express our opinions, particularly on important issues like wars and taxes. We can pick and choose what opinions to express. We can pick and choose where to demonstrate. But our soldiers, sailors and Marines do not have the freedom to pick and choose their battles. They go where the commander-in-chief sends them. They fight where our elected representatives tell them to fight. They serve.

Real get well cards can be addressed to Joshua Sparling or "any serviceman or woman", c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 6900 Georgia Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20307-5001.

(Anita Susan Brenner practices law with her husband, Len Torres.)

copyright December 29, 2005 Anita Brenner, Los Angeles Times La Canada Valley Sun