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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Looking Back On The Iraq War, After Losing A Son There

By: Alex Ashlock

It was really difficult to listen to this interview. As part of a series of conversations on the end of the war in Iraq, Robin Young spoke with Brian and Alma Hart, of Bedford, Mass. Their son, 20-year-old Pfc. John Hart and another soldier, 1st Lt. David Bernstein of Phoenixville, Pa., were killed in an ambush in Iraq in 2003.

About a week before he was killed, John Hart called his father, expressing concerns about the lack of protection for the soldiers in the field — not enough body armor, unarmored vehicles, even the lack of medical supplies. His parents didn’t have much time to respond to those concerns before the ambush that took John’s life. But in the years that followed, the Harts worked with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy to better protect members of the American military. They lobbied for and got more body armor, armored Humvees, or MRAPS (mine resistant ambush protected vehicles) and even special tourniquets that could save a soldier’s life.

“I still look back back on it and cannot believe that we went into this war of choice without enough armor, or bullets or armored Humvees.”
– Alma Hart, mother of John Hart, who was killed in Iraq

“I still look back back on it and cannot believe that we went into this war of choice without enough armor, or bullets or armored Humvees,” Alma Hart told Robin.

“Brian got this note from a woman once who her son was the driver of a Humvee. It blew up and he only lost his foot. They can’t protect around the gas pedal as well as the rest of the hull. And she was so grateful, and you have to sit down and contemplate that he only lost his foot.”

Sharing The Burden Of War

Brian said that more Americans need to feel the burden of fighting a war. He noted that the presidential candidates talk glibly about attacking Iran — like it’s going to be a cakewalk.

“It seems like everyone, from the Saudis to the Israelis, want us to get involved in a conflict with Iran… We need to learn that we cannot allow our politicians to commit us to combat without the procedures established in the Constitution to declare war.  And when we do that, everyone has to participate.  I mean a draft, I mean a war tax,” he said.

Mixed Feelings About War’s End

For the Harts, the end of this war is bittersweet. “I think our country is looking at Iraq in the rearview mirror now,” Brian said. “You could tell it was an unnecessary war, because wee were able to just leave, like walk out as if it was a bad movie. We weigh the cost of war very heavily and I think as a country we have to ask ourselves, is it really worth it? Is it really worth the life of your son or your daughter? Sometimes the answer is yes, but in this case I find it wanting.”

Deadly 2003 Ambush

On Oct. 18, 2003, John Hart and David Bernstein were riding in the last vehicle in a convoy in Taza, Iraq, when they were attacked by rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire. The website GlobalSecurity.org has this account of what happened next:

Bernstein and Hart were in the last vehicle in a quick reaction force convoy. They got cut off from the rest of the convoy when guerilla fighters shot a RPG at their vehicle causing the driver, Spc. Joshua Sams, Charlie Company, to lose control of the vehicle and crash into a dirt berm. The vehicle came to a stop on top of Sams’ arm. Bernstein, mortally wounded from a gunshot wound to the leg, crawled over to Sams’ side under direct fire, and pushed on the gas pedal with his hand, moving the vehicle forward off of Sams’ arm. Bernstein collapsed shortly afterward and died. The RPG explosion killed Hart who was in the back of the humvee.

When John Hart’s parents were in the Here & Now studio the other day, they said Joshua Sams and his wife just had a baby girl.


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  • PaulDNorthJr

    What – you mean Bush, Cheyney, and Rumsfeld pushed us into this needless and piointless morass without adequate preparation, funding, or equipment ?  I’m shocked, shocked !    Once again, the soldiers and veterans are victims – twice or thrice (see Kipling’s famous poem about soldiers, “Tommy”).  Remember who did this to us, and who failed to object, remedy it, or provide for adequate care for the wounded warriors for most of the early years of the war – mostly Republicans !  I can hardly wait for the next election . . . .

  • Anonymous

    Heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.

  • Catherine Gardner

    I am so moved by the Harts and their courage. Thank you for this very significant interview. Moee individuals should have such devotion.

  • http://twitter.com/donviti Donviti

    It’s important to also note that we never had a Surge.  I hope one day historians get it right and recall how ill prepared we were to go to war.  And they will note it took several thousand lives for our Government to finally send the number of troops many said we needed.  It wasn’t a surge.  It was making up for the many errors of an illegal war.

  • Lisa

    What a powerful and touching interview. There are heroes that are on the front lines and then there are those that have their backs. Our country owes immense gratitude to the Hart family. Thank you, Alma and Brian for all of your efforts to protect our men and women.

  • Heaviest Cat

    All Blessings to the Harts for their courage and fortitude and all they have done for America’s soldiers. Now let us as a country take the next step by holding our government accountable and questioning the stated rationales for invading and occuppying other countries and who’s really benefiting from these campaigns. NPR’s pro-war boosterism for the Bush and Obama administrations over the last decade has been an atrocious compromise of professional integrity so crucial to journalism in a democracy. That’s a major reason why 4500+ Americans and 100.000 + Iraqis are now gone. You know, this is going to happen again some years down the road,unless we, the people start acting like informed citizens of a democracy rather than mere consumers of goods and services.If NPR and other media live up to their names and claims of “independent journalism” future parents of soldiers will less likely have to worry about body armor for their sons and duaghters

  • Ben

    Sadly, the Hart’s will never get the apology they deserve.  Like many families, they suffered the greatest lost imaginable.  Their pain is understandably magnified by the tragic and unnecessary circumstances that placed John in a fight born out of George Bush’s self-reinforcing paranoid delusions.  Saddam was never a threat to anyone but his own people, and certainly never had the military resources to invade this country or harm our troops — without our president sending our troops to him.

    And for nothing.

    Who knows, maybe Saddam would have fallen last year in an Egypt-style uprising, maybe he would still be the tyrant in charge, or one of his sons.  But even then, how would that be any different than any other tyrant?   

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Karyn-Dennen/100003167098222 Karyn Dennen

    Hi Robyn, 

    You probably won’t air this comment due to it’s rough nature.  I served in the Vietnam war.  The Vietnam war, despite all the unjust criticisms that our soldiers were a rag tag force of pot heads
    trying to liberate the Peoples of South Vietnam who were butchered literally by the North, once we 
    retreated and were defeated in that war.  Senator Kerry, opposed that war even though he was there and saw the purpose of us being there.  We can never have a conscripted force, it might make you feel all fuzzy, because you Robyn and your family does not by choice have to be in the fight.  To be honest with you, why should your family have to die or be wounded in a foreign land in a war precipitated by politics and not whether we are or are not protecting our homeland.  Only WW2 was a justified war on the part of the United States.  Korea, was as controversial and the TV Hit Mash showed how political that war was.  Vietnam was an inclusive war for most of us, but these new antiseptic wars no longer include the children of our government officials or people of resources and position within our society.  We need “NEED” to have inclusive conflicts, where everyone must serve their country, in one way or another.  Military Service must be mandatory.  Otherwise we will never feel the pain of these families and will continue waging wars far away from our families table.  I might sound a bit bitter, but believe me, NPR always presents just one side of an issue.  They are like Fox 25, and I am sick to death when the other side of an issue is never presented, not matter how sensitive the topic.  

    Thank you,

    Karyn Dennen
    Served as a nurse for MACV
    101 st Airborne division/Major Knight

    PS:  When we abandoned those people in the South, what happened to them would make 
             Saddam Hussein look like Santa Clause.   

    • Heaviest Cat

      Karyn, as an unrepentant anti-war activist from the Vietnam era,I feel that demonizing the vets is just a distraction from holding to account the real culprits of our Vietnam policy. THe leaders who took is to war knowing that military might would accomplish nothing. Also just what were the US govt’s motives for invading? Was the conflict really and out and out good guys bad guys one? Or would the US have supported the COmmunists if it was expedient to do so?
       I say that because the US govt has a record of dragging its citizens into senseless wars that serve only the economic elites. And supporting vicious dictators for the same reason. THis has nothing to do with returning vets and anyone who takes out their anger at any war on teh vets embarasses the anti-war movt.But I don’t feel that military service should be mandatory. Why feed the war machine? Instead let’s demand accountability from our leaders. Curiosly enough the Pentagon does not want a reinstatement of the draft.And you’re right about nPR being one-sided. I have heard only one or two anti-war voices in 10 years of NPR’s coverage of Iraq and AfghainstanNPR=National Pentagon Radio Be well.

  • Ann

    Hart. What an appropriate name these brave, generous inspiring people inhabit. Listening to their huge and continuing contribution to our soldiers, I am moved to tears in empathy for their personal loss and gratitude for their actions of heart. Thank you for this important program at this time of year when it is so easy to get caught up in what we have and what we want instead of who we are and how we can be to each other. Much gratitude. A.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Alex, the last war ended in 1945. This was an invasion and occupation. The only thing differentiating it from the bltzkriegs of 1939 was the flags being waved.
    The real story is the 150,000 men women and children slaughtered at the command of George Bush. He is still walking free while moms and dads are still burying their children. Please follow this . It’s not a tear jerker, no emotional pull, just the sotry of a failed president using mass murder to get re-elected. Gieve EVERYONE some peace of mind and pursue this criminal. What would Julian Assange find out?

  • Kimalysonrosenberg

    I write to verterans of the Iraq and Afganistan wars with mild to severe brain damage.  I know Viet Nam vets who feel that they don’t want to get involved by simply writing a letter to a vet.  I can’t understand how people feel that these wars  were so unpopular that they actually forget the strong men and women who faught in them.  My friends sit around talking about what a waste of time and money Iraq was and now Afganistan and they tell me to keep writing to the vets and what a good thing it is that I’m doing.  But when I suggest that they do the same, no one says anything.  Some of these friends of mine are retired and have plenty of time.  I just don’t get it.  If I had a business I would go out of my way to give a vet a job.  I will continue to write to them as long as they need to hear that they are hero’s and that their country is grateful to them.  My politics are very, very left.  I’m not pro-war and I’m not even pro-Obama because I think that he’s done a terrible job.  But what about these vets?  They are so deserving of our attention and praise.  No one may like these wars, but someone is still out there fighting them.  And they need to know that they are not forgotten and that they really are appreciated for the sacrifice that they’ve made, even for a cause that was , and still is, so unpopular.  These friends of mine will talk about each war until the cows come home but as far as I’m concerned, the indifference that they show the vets is criminal. 

    • Hughlette

      Bravo, there is never enough said about the ones that return so damaged that they will need constant care for the rest of their lives. 

      Semper Fi

      Marine220

      • Heaviest Cat

        HI Hughlette. let’s make sure ,our leaders not take us into more wars so that no more soldiers return home damaged.

    • Aashlock

      Thanks for your coments. Is there a program you can guide me to for the letters you are writing, or are you doing it n your own? 

    • Heaviest Cat

      Kimaly what we ,as Americans fail to realize is that the vets are not to blame for the war. We should be hold our leaders to account for taking us into war on false pretenses in service to their corporate constituency.

  • Shedlin242

    I served as a maintenance shop foreman in Iraq. I can count on two hand the number of soldiers who went home because of what the Harts did. 

  • FenwayL

    Required listening… please archive.  I will always remember this powerful interview for the compassion, intelligence, insight and yes… courage of this amazing couple.  This is packed with words of wisdom for deciding if war is truly necessary and taking care of our VIP citizens who fight on our behalf.  I help vets and this has inspired me to do more. 

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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