I just read perhaps the most touching, and at the same time most pitiful story I ever heard. CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr tells the story of Marine Corps Lieutenant Andrew Kinard, and Lt. Col. Raymond Rivas, two veterans of wars fought for their country, separated only by age and circumstance, brothers in honor. It is a story with both triumphant and pitiful implications. A story of the best men a nation has to offer, and as so many have been before, somehow let down by the system they sacrificed everything for.
The personal account of Ms. Starr recalls the date of July 15, and a night where an acquaintance, Andrew, was being honored with a going away party at the, as he prepared to leave Washington for Harvard and law school. Starr, had met Andrew at Walter Reed several years before, and this night was a triumph not just because Andrew was leaving for Harvard Law School, but because of the triumphant spirit of the man. You see, while in Iraq Andrew lost the entire lower part of his body to an IED attack.
Outside this story, the reader must put together the little pieces Ms. Starr skillfully omitted. The part about what this fine young man had to go through to overcome such a devastating injury, what kind of person it takes to maintain a pristine attitude, and the latter part of the story to follow.
This writer has not the time nor skill to paint this picture appropriately, no one does actually. We have to see these things in our own hearts and minds. Now let me tell you the other end of an American dish made up of honor and integrity on the one side, and mediocre excuses and bureaucracy on the other.
That same night, as Ms. Starr recollects, Andrew made the comment:
“You have to do something about the story of Ray Rivas.”
Unbeknown to anyone at the party, Lt. Col. Raymond Rivas lay dead in his car outside Brooke Army Medical Center back home in Texas. Rivas, like Andrew, had served his country and given all he had.
Rivas had spent most of his Army career helping to rebuild war torn countries like Iraq. And, in doing so he had suffered what is being termed as “traumatic brain injury” from a number of deployments where he was injured by bombs falling in close proximity. In essence, a form of shell shock where the brain undergoes extreme trauma. The last occurrence, as related by Starr, was in Iraq, after which Rivas was transferred to Europe, only to be redoployed back to Iraq shortly thereafter.
In the end Rivas’ story, his career, and his reward, was being misdiagnosed essentially, swept under the rug like so many others, and left to his own devices. The pills and the note left to his family attest to perhaps his ignoble end, and also to the system, the people, who let him down. When he was finally sent to Brook for treatment, it was his comrades who helped him bathe, his comrades who assisted him when he was disoriented, his fellow combatants helping him to eat and to dress – not the medical system or the government sworn to serve him in his hour of need.
The end of this story is as poignant as the reader can imagine. The statement Andrew had made to Starr gave it away. You see Rivas and his wife had just traveled to Washington to testify on Capital Hill to try and help other soldiers who were suffering, and just as he had always done in his career, to make sure the casualties of war were seen to.
On that panel in Washington, testifying on behalf not of themselves, but of their comrades in arms, sat Lt. Colonel Ray Rivas and Lt. Andrew Kinard.
Starr told this story as only a veteran reporter, and someone “in the know” could. For me, the story brings home similar memories, if not as fresh and pungent. What strikes me when I hear things like this, and thank God I don’t have to that often, is the endless fallability of the system we have in place for not only war, but just common decency.
Kinard and Rivas are heroes of course, but there are literally thousands of soldiers under the suppose care of our government. The same government that lets Americans down every day. Still, people like these two heroes are the ones having to fight for even the right to be treated. Well, I will leave the reader to his or her own emotions, or for some rationalizations about this. For me and my partner, I can only offer our condolences to the family of Colonel Rivas, and happily, our congratulations to Andrew for being so exceptional.
A final note for Ms. Starr too, you are worth one heck of a lot more than they are paying you, and thank you for this story. Below, a brave, brave man.