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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

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

Brian and Alma Hart, (Robin Lubbock/Here & Now)John Hart, who was killed in Iraq in 2003. (Courtesy of the Hart family)Nick Pulliam, standing in front of a humvee that was blown up by a roadside bomb while he was inside. (Courtesy of the Hart family)(From left to right) John Hart, Chris Williams and Josh Sams stand with other soldiers in Iraq. (Courtesy of the Hart family)John Hart at the American Military Cemetery in Italy. (Courtesy of the Hart Family)

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 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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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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