I'm Teddy Nelsen, currently 29 years old, about 20% legally disabled, married, but not for much longer, and unemployed.
Before all this happened, I was a policeman in Harlan, a middle-sized West Virginia town. I was also in the Army Reserves as a Tank Gunner. Like most people during 2002 I read the papers and watched the news at night, so it was no big surprise when my unit got activated during the run-up to the second Gulf war.
The orders came down and we were scheduled to leave for a twelve-month tour in early January, 2003. Amy and I had been forced to wait to get married until I got settled in my career and we could afford to set up in a house and all. And I had done some time away at training. And Amy had been forced to deal with some serious illnesses in her family, but we were all past that now. Well, Amy and I were still newlyweds when I got activated, so having to leave tore us both up. We had some wild farewell sex and tearful farewells. We'd only been married 8 months.
Amy was a shy pretty little blonde that I've known almost all of my life. She was my high school sweetheart and we had both been virgins when we finally made love after graduation. She and her Mom and Dad, Corinne and Floyd, along with my older sister Janet are the only family that I have. When the time came to ship out, there were lots of promises to write, but I knew that wasn't gonna happen. None of them were big on letter-writing.
So off we went. After sitting in Kuwaiti bunkers at night and tearing around the Kuwaiti desert on maneuvers by day for two months, we finally got some action orders. I didn't know how my tankmates felt, but I had a hard, sour feeling in the pit of my stomach. This would be my first time in combat, and I just prayed that I would not let my guys and my country down. I hoped that I would not turn coward if things went badly. You never can know for sure until the time comes, I thought.
We went across the border shortly after Baghdad got hit by the big "Shock and Awe" bombardment. We weren't in the news, but we were in the first offensive strike. We were probing the Iraqi defenses. What kinds of tank strength did they have? We had very little Intel from inside Iraq.
My tank was out ahead of our line on the far right. I'm not bragging when I say we had the best electronics in the world. Flat out fact! Our sights incorporated long distance infrared technology, meaning we could detect the heat signature of a tank at a considerable distance; I think the true range may still be classified.
Anyway, I saw the signatures of two tanks off to our right. I signaled the Skipper and he tapped our driver, Jubal, to stop. I looked them over and showed Skip the images. It looked like they were turned toward the east. He signaled our find back to our line commander by tight beam infrared. Undetectable.
I was surprised that I could see them plain as day and they had no clue we were there. They were old technology tanks: Soviet 1972 style. T-72's for short. We had conflicting reports on how our cannon would do against their armor and vice versa. I said something about that to Skip as he was copying the response back from the line commander.
He said, "We are sure as fuck about to find out, Nelly. We're going at them. This fucking war is officially on. Load AP." That last was to Pete, my loader, who let out a "WHOOP!" Skip and Pete were real mountain boys, born hell-raisers.
AP's were Armor Piercing rounds. The hope was that they would penetrate their armor and blow up the inside. If I hit them, of course.
We were on the move and closing as fast as Jubal could drive in the moonlight. I still don't think they'd detected us electronically.
In the night air sound carries quite a distance and a tank going hard is a damned noisy thing. There's a reason we wear ear protective headsets. If they were unbuttoned and on lookout they'd have heard us for certain.
I kept the tank on the right in my sights. I saw the flare of a cannon firing, but it was aimed to the side, toward the general direction of Kuwait. I guess their Intel was that we were coming straight at them, which was sorta true, but they figured the attack had to come directly from the east, so they were firing that way on general principles. Once they fired, Skipper tapped me on the shoulder and I returned fire. My first round was slightly over. Pete reloaded fast. My second was direct on the base of the turret. Big green bloom of an explosion in the scope...
As Pete reloaded, I slid my aiming point slightly left. That target began to move, trying to take evasive action and turn toward us. The commander was no dummy. He saw that my first shot was over and figured correctly that we were coming from his right. Made no difference. I put one directly on his front, just short and maybe a tad to the left of center. He fired back at us, but he still didn't have us acquired. Just shooting by guess and by God. Or Allah.
My second shot got him just under the cannon. I could see the turret rock from an explosion inside. Then I saw him jolt from another round hitting him, but it wasn't from me.
The next tank to our left had followed us and had winged off a shot themselves to be in on the kill.
Our targets were burning and blowing up. The Skipper stopped and we went up to check it out. Oh, my what a sight it was; they lit up the night sky. Off to our left we heard other tank-to-tank duels going on.
We were ordered to veer slightly left and move forward, but we saw no more enemy tanks worth shooting at. We did see quite a few of them hauling ass away from us.
The results of that night's action answered half the question. That 30 year old armor of theirs could not withstand our AP rounds. We still didn't know what their stuff would do to ours because they hadn't made a hit on any of ours yet.
Somebody higher up took the kill credit for tank number two away from us and awarded it to the party crashers on the left, but the next echelon up rolled that partially back and made it a joint kill. There was some talk about a unit citation medal for my tank. We were probably the first unit to make a kill in the ground operation, but nothing ever came of that.
Neither Skip nor I saw anyone get out of the two tanks we blew up. That was my first experience as a killer of men and although it was long distance and impersonal, I still had a hard time getting a decent nights sleep for many months unless I was plumb exhausted.
I didn't even know how many men I might have killed.
We had four-man crews, but I didn't know if the Iraqis did the same. Nor did I really want to know. Two times three or four men? One and a half times three or four men? Either way, they were still dead and I had pulled the trigger. Sobering shit, but I guess every soldier has to feel that.
None of that bothered Skip, Jubal, or Pete. Like I said, they were mountain people and came from a long tradition of violence and killing. The Hatfields and the McCoys had nothing on their families up in the hills of West Virginia. And if there weren't blood feuds, there were Government Revenue Agents to harass and rough up. There were many Revenuers who had to be retired with crippling injuries.
With that kind of background, my crewmen, particularly Skip and Pete were hard-assed men. I was a soft city boy compared to them. Jubal was just Jubal.
Not too long after that, our unit was at the tail end of the big Marine armored push to Baghdad; the one that got bogged down by sandstorms.
I killed my next man during that nasty time, in late March 2003. My loader Pete and I got sent up topside as lookouts as we sat waiting for orders to start moving again. Which we knew damned well weren't gonna come during that sandstorm. We were almost totally blinded by the sand and our electronics sights were just as bad as our eyes. Our goggles protected our eyes, and we had infrared night vision capability but we were still blind-assed lookouts! The fucking sand!
We heard a noise on Pete's side, and he climbed down the side of the tank to go looking around. I couldn't barely see him as he moved a few feet away. Then I couldn't see anything. Pete had a headset in his helmet, like me, and he whispered to me, telling me what he was doing as he looked around. Well, felt around was more like it, I guess. He said he was checking along the side, and then around the back. Then he was silent. I had no way of knowing where he had gotten to.
I heard three shots from Pete's weapon. Very distinctive sounds, our carbines vs their Kalishnikovs! Still no clue where the shots were, front or back or either side. The sandstorm just muffled everything down.
Then I saw a dim form coming up, climbing the treads on the left side. The outline was dim, but it was wearing a helmet. It looked like Pete.
But there was something not quite right. To this day I can't tell you what. There was no point in saying anything in the helmet comm, because the guy was five feet from me. I went on my gut instinct and I shot him. The man dropped out of sight with a cry.
Then Pete was scrambling up beside me, asking what I was shooting at. I breathed a quick prayer of thanks to Whoever. He said that in the slight lee of the tank, he'd seen some men trying to get near us with something, probably explosives and he had pegged a few shots at them. They took off into the murky nothingness surrounding us.
The sandstorm let up toward morning and we climbed out to look around. There was a dead guy, an Iraqi Republican Guard soldier, I think. He was half buried in the sand. I got him right through the forehead, just below his helmet. He was carrying some kind of improvised shaped charge. I'd been on the Harlan police for nine years and had never shot at anyone, much less killed anyone, so I felt kinda strange about it for a while. It was different from shooting long distance at the tanks.
I talked to Skip about it, everything I saw and heard and thought. He said he understood, but I doubted it. Pete was a tad shaken when I told him I thought I might have been shooting him, but he said I had done right, and Skip backed him up. Like I said, hard-assed men. Pete said that guy wasn't climbing up our tank to give us no big sloppy welcoming kiss! Funny thing is, I never saw an enemy soldier wearing a helmet like that after that.
As the tank commander, Skip put me in for a medal, but nothing ever came of it. I figure I was 50-50 away from being court-martialed for shooting Pete. All that worked at that moment had been my gut feeling. That was not much to have to go on with a man's life at stake.
Tank units were very much in demand for the next six months and I saw a lot of the area around Baghdad without ever getting into the city itself. We spent a lot of that time poking around the province of Tikrit, Saddam's old home grounds. He had escaped from Baghdad near the end run at the city, and was hiding someplace, him and his sons and a bunch of his senior staffers. They gave us a deck of cards, like playing cards, only they had the photos of the escapees, some 55 of them. We were supposed to be on the lookout for them, as if they were going to walk up to the tank!
We were always on the move, and it was rare that mail caught up to us for weeks.
Not that it meant much for me; whatever came, there was nothing for me. Like I said, my folks were not much for letter-writing.
When some delayed mail caught up with us in late October, I did finally have two letters, one from Amy and one from Corinne. They were barely a half page each. I learned that Amy had given birth to a healthy baby boy named Ted Jr. a few weeks before. But there was none of that vital statistics info that women always like to give: length, weight, hair color, etc. Like I said, there had been no mail before that. The troops living in Baghdad or at many of the big bases had access to email and satellite phones, but not us raiders.
Hell, if I had known anything about the pregnancy, I would have made a request to go to a phone center. But nobody thought to write and tell me; I was in the dark all through this. No one had even tried to call me. If they had, I'd have gotten the word. That was SOP for units spending extended time in the field.
After the two letters, I asked for a break to make a humanitarian call. The chaplain fixed me up, and I called back home. I got Corinne. Amy was not feeling well and was sleeping, she told me. Rough delivery, she said. She was there helping out with Ted, Jr.
I asked,"Mom. How come nobody told me Amy was expecting? They'd have gotten a message to me for that."
"Oh, well, we knew you were busy, and there's always the chance that something might go wrong with a first pregnancy. We figured you didn't need anything else to worry about over there, what with you in a shooting war and all. But there weren't any complications and everything is fine."
"Well Ok," I said. "So what does he look like, weight, size, hair, eyes? I could use a picture, or something, when you get a chance."
There was a pause. Then Corinne said, "Sorry, Teddy, I gotta go. I hear the baby." Then she hung up. I was left looking at the phone in disbelief. There was a line behind me, so I had to move away from the little cubicle to give someone else a chance. I got back on the end of the line and tried to call back later, but the operator said that the phone wasn't being answered. And I was thinking: rough pregnancy ... but there were no complications? Huh?
The fighting entered a new phase after that. There were demands that the troops go house to house in and around Tikrit looking for Saddam Hussain and his sons. There was an increased emphasis on locating and capturing them; they were all considered War Criminals.
Meanwhile, my unit was busy fending off attackers ... Now they were armed with Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) which can do damage to a tank if you hit it right, and I had to put it out of my mind. The fighters, or insurgents as they were starting to be called, were fighting back now. We didn't exactly know who they were, but they were tough and getting bolder, now that the big sweeping invasion was over. There was little chance to call or email, and there were no more letters.
There was an ugly rumor of an announcement coming down from Rumsfeld. When it came, my unit was among many extended another three months to a fifteen month deployment. Now I was going nuts!
I wrote a long letter in November and asked for more news of my baby and Amy. The response didn't come back until early December; one letter from Floyd. It was short, and mostly local gossip and trivial stuff but did not answer any of my questions. Now I was really baffled, and getting pissed, too. I wrote my sister, Janet, but got no reply for over a month. No written contact of any kind around Christmas. I got presents, but no notes or letters. This was getting too strange!
In late January I got a short note from Amy that vaguely mentioned some health problems that she had been having, and that she was much better now.
I was getting ticked off. Health problems? And no one had stopped to tell me about that? Hell, I could have gotten sent home on humanitarian leave. I'd told them about that when I'd shipped out. And still nothing about the hair and eye color and other stuff that I'd asked for earlier.
In February, I got called down to a Red Cross Call Center for an incoming satellite phone call from Corinne and Floyd. After the usual greetings, I asked them point blank about hair and eye color. Finally Corinne said that Teddy Jr's hair was dark brown and that his eyes were also brown. Then she hastened to tell me that those things all can change as the baby grows up.
What? I'm blond and blue-eyed, and so is Amy. I just blurted it out: "How can our baby have that coloring?" As if rehearsed, Corinne launched into a confused story about genes and suppressor genes and mitigating factors. I think she was reading it from something. She ended by saying that that Reverend Willis reminds us that all that genetics stuff can always be overruled by the hand of God.
I said never mind what the Rev. Willis said, what did the fucking OB/GYN doctor say about it? Corinne and Floyd hemmed and hawed and didn't answer, pleading that they had to give up the phone now to others. They hung up before I could protest.
I reserved a time for a call back to the States. Two hours later it was my turn, and so I called all their numbers, one after another. No one answered. I got information and called the OB/GYN's office. I got a recording. I was still in my block of time. At last I got hold of Reverend Willis. He gave me pretty much the same spiel I'd heard from Corrinne. He ended with: "All things are possible through God."
If he hadn't been a clergyman, I'd have shouted "Bullshit!" at him. I slammed the phone down so hard I almost broke it. I got a lot of dirty looks from the guys waiting to use the phone, but I didn't care.
Then things got real interesting with a new wave of insurgency attacks, and I couldn't get time to call anyone else. I desperately needed to talk to my sister. She had been silent though all this: no letters, no calls. I tried her by satellite phone once, and her phone just rang and rang.
I learned my unit was scheduled to be rotated back Stateside in April. Well, I thought, when I get back to Harlan, I'll get some damned answers. Or some confirmation of what I pretty much thought I already knew.
In late February my tank and crew were was assigned to the security detail for a visiting congressman from WVA, Rod Curry, and a cable network news team covering the visit. I figured that was because my unit was all West Virginia boys.
My tank trailed the cavalcade, and when the visitors stopped at various points for the usual dog-and-pony-show, my job was to jump down with my rifle and act as part of the security cordon. Pete and Jubal backed me up, while Skip stayed with the tank. We had all gotten briefed on what to expect and what to look out for.
The visit went along pretty normal, for a while. I got to meet Congressman Curry myself, and he was an easy guy to talk to. They stopped here and there and met the local bigshots and got lots of photo opportunities. Photo Ops, they called them The camera crew filmed everything. Or taped it, I 'm not sure which. That was all pretty much the same thing, now.
Then hell started to break loose. We were in a town called Karghill.
There was an incident that turned out to be a diversionary tactic, and the Congressman and the cable news team were physically separated from most of the cordon by a wayward van that came bucketing out of a side street. Pete, Jubal and I were standing right behind the Congressman when the van appeared and so we were isolated with them.
I spotted four men rushing out toward us from behind the van. They had handguns and they were shooting.
I bellowed out for everyone to get down and for Pete and Jubal to get in front of the visitors. Then I moved out between the four crazy fuckers and my people. They were going to have to go though me to get to them. I stood steady as they came at me. It was like during the sandstorm. Fast decisions. I was surprised how calm I felt.
I glanced back real quick and saw Pete and Jubal throw themselves over the Congressman and the cable network correspondent, but the camera crew kept right on filming.
I felt two bullets hit me on my body armor, but it did its job and I was Ok. They rocked me a little, but I stayed ready.
I ignored the impacts, took a breath, and released it slowly as I fired at the first three attackers with a trio of bursts from my weapon. They went down, one-two-three. The fourth was on me then, and was frantically trying to get past me. The attacker clearly had explosives on a harness around his body, and was the only one of the four like that. There was wire and stuff wrapped around it. We had been briefed on that; it was designed to scatter a lot of deadly shrapnel to kill or maim anyone within range.
I could have shot him or knocked him down, even close up, but that would have put the explosion within 10-12 feet of the crouching visitors, way too close. The explosion would be lethal!
When picked for the detail, we'd been briefed that these suicide bombs sometimes had a position-sensing fuse; safe if the man was upright, but if he fell to the ground, the detonator would go off,
So I had to keep him upright and get him away. So I charged the fucker and threw my body into him. I stopped him dead in his tracks.
My weapon was useless in this close-in struggle since I couldn't shoot him or use it to knock the fucker down. I tossed it aside and went hand-to-hand. His clothes were too loose to get a good grip, so I grabbed onto the explosive-filled tubes and used them for leverage. The wires and sharp metal cut my hands, even though my gloves. What worked for me was that the man was harnessed tightly to the bombs; push the bombs and the crazy fucker went too.
I drove him back away from the visitors, step by step. As the man scrabbled with his hands to get at the cord to ignite the detonators, I punched and blocked his hands. I was mostly pushing and driving the man away from his goal with my chest and shoulders. He was about my size, but I could outmuscle him. But he was trying with every bit of his strength.
When I got the fucker about 15 or 20 feet further away, I got a good grip on the tubes, lowered my shoulders, and threw my body into him, like hitting a blocking sled in football. He lost more ground. Finally, I got a really good grip on the harness, whirled him around in a circle, and flung him away from me by main force. The fucker reeled, spinning away, unable to get his footing.
That brought him up against a freestanding wall. The impact stunned him, and he began to slide down. I thought: "Uh-Oh! Position sensitive switch! So I turned and hauled my ass back toward the others.
The explosives went off, and everyone in the area was bound to get hit with fragments, but at that distance they would maybe be just minor fragments. I had done my best.
I was staring straight at the face of the cable network correspondent where she was peeking around Jubal's arm and I saw something ding her headset. She flinched but kept on talking.
Then something hit my legs and knocked me forward on my face. The last thing I remembered was thinking about her, "Damn, she's a looker."
I came to in a hospital with a great deal of pain in my legs, mainly the lower left leg, but with a lot of other general pains in my hips and torso. Hell, my hands hurt too. Hell, damned near everything hurt. They had me lying on my front instead of my back like a regular patient. My head was toward the door, instead of my feet like a regular patient.
There was a lot of commotion when someone noticed I'd come to. Soon Rep. Rod Curry was beside me in the room kneeling down to see my face and carefully shaking my hand in a combination of genuine feelings and a helluva photo op. He had a big gauze pad on his ear and another on his neck. From the fragments, I guess. Rep. Curry thanked me for my heroic actions, and said he expected to see me when I got to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington.
"Sure, no problem," I said. "What's wrong with me?"
Then the looker cable network correspondent was there, too. The way I was positioned, she had to crouch down to get her microphone in my face and ask a lot of questions. She wore a short skirt, and had very nice legs, I noticed. Nice black thong, too. I noticed that! I think she noticed that I noticed, because she looked down and blushed and knelt down. She had a small medical dressing on her brow.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
"Like crap. Why am I facing down?"
"Did you deliberately risk yourself to protect us? When you were right next to the bomber and grabbed him; the bomb would have killed you right then."
"I don't know about risking myself. I had to stop him from getting to you people. I was assigned to protect you, so I had to stop him, and then I had to get him away from you.
"It was just like West Virginia high school football. I just treated him like a guy I had to block and drive out of a hole.
"What happened to me?"
Then the doctors and nurses pushed the looker away and were putting meds into my IV drip. She was shouting questions at me from some few feet away, still on her knees.
"Do you know the extent of your injuries?"
"No," I called back. "That's why I keep asking. No one's told me a damn thing. I don't like lying like this; it hurts like hell to have to hold my head up to talk to you."
I got her to look me squarely in the eye. "If they tell you what's wrong with me, will you tell me?"
I never got to hear her answer because I don't remember anything more. They must have had some damn good meds going into that IV.
When I came to the next time, it was nighttime. The doctor who was treating me came and sat on a low stool so I could see him without raising my head.
He said that I had taken a lot of fragments from the bomb in my backside and all down the back of my legs. That was where my body armor didn't cover.
That was why I was lying face down, so they could get to the wounds and pick out the shrapnel. Once they got out all the significant ones, and the wounds were treated, he said they'd put me into a bed that would let me rotate back up to a normal reclining position. Oh, and I did take a few fragments in the back of my neck, but they were all out now.
He said that over time, maybe a couple of months, the smaller pieces would make their way out. My body would seal them in little pouches of tissue to keep them from doing any more harm. He said my hands were pretty chewed up from grabbing all that sharp nasty stuff wrapped around the explosives, but that was all healing up well.
I said OK. But I was waiting for some bottom line news.
I wasn't disappointed.
The doctor scooted the stool closer. That was the first time that I noticed his rank. He was a full Bird Colonel.
"Corporal Nelsen, when the bomb went off, a large piece of the wall was blasted up and out and hit you on the back of your lower left leg. Essentially, it crushed your lower leg and foot. The tibia and fibula and dozens of small bones in your ankle and foot were almost completely shattered and crushed.
"There was no way to save any of it and no hope of rebuilding it. So we removed it, just below the knee."
I looked up at him, ignoring the pain in my neck.
"So what do I do from here, Doc? I'm missing part of my leg?
"Doc, I'm a police officer back home. I can't be that any more if I'm disabled."
"I'm not going to bullshit you, Corporal Nelsen," he went on. "After you get acclimated to your prosthesis, you'll be able to walk pretty well, play golf, even dance and run road races if you're so inclined. That's pretty close to a normal life for most men. But no, you will be somewhat disabled for more vigorous activities. You probably won't be able to pass the physical requirements for many public safety jobs, like fireman or policeman.
"I'm telling you the brutal truth, here, soldier. It's a piss-poor reward for serving your country and saving some people's lives, but life isn't always fair. But I think you'll be able to bounce back and go on from this. The man I saw on that video is too brave and tough to let something like this take him down."
"You don't know? No one's told you?"
I tried to shrug my shoulders, but my neck told me that was a really, really bad idea.
Muttering to himself, the doctor got up and went out for a few minutes. By the time the pain subsided, he came back in with an orderly and they hooked up something to the TV. At least that what I thought they did. I could barely see past the doctor's belt when he stood up. The TV was up about 6 feet higher.
The Colonel clicked a remote and I heard the looker's voice narrating.
"Uh, excuse me, Sir, but I can't see a thing."
At that, the Colonel, the orderly and a couple of nurses fell all over themselves excusing themselves as they fought for access to some controls below the side of the bed. The Colonel won and the bed slowly tilted up to where I could almost see the monitor. But as it tilted, the pain got so bad I could hear my vital sign BEEP-BEEPs accelerate and those monitor alarms went off, so he had to crank me back down. Now I could understand why they had me tilted forward and down like that.
Eventually they put a mirror down on the floor, and tilted it so I could see the screen.
That was the first time I saw my so-called heroics. It wouldn't be the last, and I soon got very tired of seeing myself do that stuff over and over.
I got hit by the bullets. I shot the three assassins. I crashed into the fourth assassin and grabbed him and pushed him away by brute force.
The looker's voice pointed out that from the time that I closed with him, I was the only one certain to share his fate if the explosives went off. Hell that wasn't true, I thought. That close, they'd have all been toast. Maybe nobody wanted them to know
Then I swung him around and threw him at the wall. Actually, that was the only part I liked. The fucker was about my size, but I still flung him a damned impressive distance, even if I do say so myself.
It would have definitely gotten me an Unsportsmanlike Conduct and automatic ejection from a football game back in high school. I knew that because I'd done about the exact same thing in a game once to a hot-shot quarterback and had gotten ejected.
Hell, I got suspended for the next two games. Up till now, that was probably my greatest claim to fame. And that was strictly local. And the coach had busted my ass in practice for those two weeks.
On the rest of the video, I got to see what happened after the fucker hit the wall and went down. The explosion was pretty damned impressive and the picture got blurry for a few seconds. The cameraman shaken by the blast, I guess.
I did see the chunk of wall hit me and felt I was damned lucky to have survived. It was as big as a chimney. It would have crushed my skull or broken my back if it had a little more loft. Like I said, I was damned lucky to have survived.
I saw myself lying face down. It got all jiggedy-blurry as the cameraman jogged closer. I saw my buddies ran by the camera to get to me.
Then I was looking down at myself. That was weird. I could see a lot of blood under the parts of my legs that didn't have wall on them.
Then I saw the good-looking cable network correspondent again. She had one of those odd MTV-type names: Cassidy O'Casey. Ms. O'Casey was doing a stand-up at the scene describing what had happened. She and the Congressman were all over themselves talking over how brave and self-sacrificing I had had been, etc., etc. I thought it was a bit much.
On the end of the video, Congressman Sully turned the interview back to the purpose of his visit and I lost interest in the rest of it.
Colonel Sanders - I am not making this up! - talked to me some more about my treatment. He kept emphasizing that I would be returning home with a pretty good prognosis.
Thinking about returning home brought my mind back to those questions I had about the brown-haired, brown-eyed baby boy awaiting me at home. I asked him if he could give me his medical opinion about something unrelated to me lying here in this bed.
He said sure.
So I told him the deal. Two blue-eyed, blond-haired parents have a brown-haired, brown-eyed baby boy. What were the odds?
Col. Sanders looked surprised, and then a little grim, but said he'd like to do some research before giving me his opinion. Then he gave the nurses some instructions and left me to try to sleep. Well, with the meds they were giving me, I had no problem doing that, no matter what I was worrying about.
A couple of days later, he gave me his informed opinion on the likelihood. It was about what I figured.
I thanked him.
A couple of days after that, I got a frantic phone call from the whole family. They had never been contacted about my injury through any official channels! The first they knew was anything was from watching a network special about the Congressional delegation to Baghdad. Not that they caught the special themselves, but a friend had TiVo'd it and told them about it. So they trooped over and watched it.
Apparently Cassidy O'Casey had sat on the ambush video while she put together a piece about the trip, prominently featuring her coverage. She saved the video for last and it lit up the network switchboard with excited callers.
When she said that the name of the tank gunner who'd nearly been killed protecting her and Congressman Sully was Teddy Nelsen of Harlan WVA, my folks had freaked out!
They went nuts trying to figure out how to get to me. At last my sister called up the network and got a message through to Ms. O'Casey. When Cassidy learned she had Corporal Nelsen's family on her plate she called them back and did a telephone interview and finally told them what she knew. Someone dug up a number for Colonel Sanders for her. She gave it to them, and he gave them my room extension number.
He came to my room just before they called.
It was a strange conversation. They were all happy about my survival and worried about my injury and so on and on. I gave them the answers I knew, and Colonel Sanders came in on the line and filled them in with his medical opinions about my wounds and the rehab I'd have to go though, and all that.
I say I gave them my answers, but I was pretty terse about it. It was a suspicious thing that they were all purposely babbling and taking the phone back and forth, because it prevented me from having any opportunity to talk directly to Amy.
Colonel Sanders eventually told them I was badly in need of rest and ended the call.
Then he sat down with me and we talked about what I was facing, and it had nothing to do with my lower left leg.
The next day I was wheeled out with 23 other wounded warriors and loaded on a huge transport bound for Germany.
Once there I settled into my recovery regime. There were exercises to strengthen my legs, which were weak from disuse. And other tortures to prepare me for using my prosthesis.
There was one exercise where I sat on a bench and swung my legs, one at a time, like I was trying to kick something in front of me and above my shoulder. It hurt like hell to do it with my good right leg, especially after the tenth or eleventh repetition.
My bad left leg was the worst! It had been growing weak from disuse and putting little weight or stress on it. Plus, to do those exercises, I had to have a heavier steel prosthesis strapped on as a resistance weight. After four or five kicks that I could barely get above my belly button, I would cramp up in my abs. By the time I came to Walter Reed I was up to 23 left leg kicks, almost shoulder high. But the cramping was still fierce. I was off pain meds by then. They had to know when I experienced pain and where it was and what it was like, to be able to treat me.
I kept on it. I had been taught the value of discipline by my dad, and I applied it to everything in my life, in his memory.
I had much better access to phones and such. I called my sister and she answered. I came straight out with my doubts about the baby. She tried to assure me that there was nothing wrong, except that Ted Jr. was a little bit behind the development curve. I said, "Gee, remind me. What was that date of birth again?"
She paused and said October 13th.
I said, "How about that? Exactly nine months to the day after I left. I told her I was thinking it was a tad bit later than that."
Janet didn't say anything for a few moments. Then very carefully she said, "Teddy, Amy is the best friend I have in the world beside you. She's like my sister. You are my brother, but she needed my help. No one knew what to say to you. I just couldn't rat out my best..."
I interrupted her. "Tough when you have to make hard choices, Sis. Amy obviously couldn't do it. Neither could you. I guess Corinne and Floyd are in on the joke too, right?
"What a laugh. Here I am off getting my ass all blown up and there you all are having a good laugh over the poor sap cuckold."
That was a real word. I'd looked it up.
Janet said, "It's not a joke, Teddy. No one's laughing at you. It's more of a tragedy. Amy made a mistake. It's a terrible mistake, and she feels terrible about being so weak. She came to us, crying and asking for our forgiveness and help. There was never a question about aborting the baby, even though if she'd done that you might never have known. It could have all been smoothed over. But a life is too precious to throw away. Ted Jr. is an innocent party.
I cut her off with a bitter laugh. "Right, Ted Jr. Good name! Something else to make people laugh at me.
"Janet, you say no one is laughing at me. I say that's a load of crap. Somewhere there in Harlan is a guy who knows he fucked my sweet, loving, faithful wife after I was off to war. He's laughing every day. And if he's the kind of opportunistic prick that I think he is, he's bragged on it to his buddies.
"He knocked up Teddy Nelsen's wife, Amy and got away with it.
"So that's him and his buddies who are laughing.
"Then there's everyone at the doctor's office and the hospital. You think they can't count? I leave in January and the wife delivers ... when? What's the real birthday?"
"Ok, so it's your typical twelve month pregnancy. Pretty common, huh?
"And then there's the neighbors? The people who you all work with? Everyone back on the force? And everyone else that all those people have told. Hell, I guess seeing that stupid video brought all the cuckold jokes right back up into everyone's mind.
"Who's the guy?" I asked.
"Come on, don't play dumb on me, Janet. Who was Amy fucking?"
"I, Teddy, I've asked Amy, but she won't tell me."
It sounded to me like she was choosing her words carefully. Like she was pretending that she didn't even have a clue? I let it go. They were all going to lie.
"Ok, ' I said, "That's something else to put on my to-do list. Let's see, so far I have: Heal up. Rehab. Get prosthesis. Learn how to walk. Learn how to go up and down stairs. Find out who fucked Amy. Kill his ass. Get a divorce. Get a job. Yeah, that about covers it."
"Teddy, no! You can't even think about some of that stuff! You, ... You're injured and crip ... I mean disabled. The man is violent. I mean, whover he is, he might be dangerous to take on, ... the way you are.