A Trail of Tears: War Wounds

Originally posted at TomDispatch.

America’s Father’s Day was first celebrated on June 19, 1910, in Washington State. That was only a few years before Ann Jones’s father went to war. His was the Great War which turned out – with its trenches of frozen mud, rats and lice, poison gas, and machine-gun death – to be not so great. It was supposed to be the War to End all Wars, but all it did was bequeath to humanity a more terrible war that would be even more worldly.

Jones’s father returned from the trenches with a passel of medals, a lifelong disability, and a book of horrors that she was never allowed to see as a child. I don’t know if he was part of the reason that she felt compelled to report on such horrors herself, but I’m glad she did. The result is some of the finest journalism about this country’s ongoing, never-ending era of Forever Wars.

In 2013, Dispatch Books published Jones’s modern masterpiece, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars – The Untold Story and TomDispatch published the excerpt that we offer again today, almost a decade later, for your Father’s Day reading.

I’m still in awe of her reporting for that book. At 73, she strapped on body armor and headed to war in Afghanistan, so you didn’t have to. She watched the sort of meatball surgery that would have left you doubled over and retching. She asked the hard questions of soldiers, veterans, and their family members that you never could. And she wrote it all up with passion, eloquence, and unsparing clarity. They Were Soldiers offers a still-unprecedented look at the carnage Americans never saw and the toll no one talked about.

The scenes Jones narrated couldn’t have been more vivid or jarring, but the dialogue was on another level. She has a way with people. She found America’s soldiers where they were, put in the time, and they opened up, offering quotes that blossomed like wildflowers in the spring, even if it was a spring in hell.

In the piece that follows, a longtime Army officer, heading home for “psych reasons,” reveals the “con” to which he devoted his life. “War is absurd,” he says. “Boys don’t know any better. But for a grown man to be trapped in stupid wars – it’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating, it’s absurd.” His sons, he said, were in college and would not follow their father’s path to war. “They won’t have to serve,” he told Jones. “Before that happens, I’ll shoot them myself.” Happy Father’s Day.

Read the excerpt of Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars – The Untold Story at TomDispatch.