I am incredibly saddened to learn, on Veterans' Day of all days, of the death of Tomas Young, a 34-year old Iraq War veteran turned unapologetic peace activist, paralyzed from the chest down, whose heart-breaking story I played a small role in helping to bring to the national stage back during the extraordinary summer of 2005...
I had interrupted a summer camping trip in the the mountains that year to travel down to Crawford, Texas to cover the growing protest there by "Gold Star Mom" Cindy Sheehan, whose son had been killed during a ambush in Sadr City, Iraq in April of 2004. Sheehan, who had been joined by a large group of anti-war veterans in George W. Bush's pretend home town, was demanding a meeting with him after a contingent of U.S. Army troops had recently been killed in Iraq, after which Bush proclaimed that they had died "for a noble cause".
Sheehan --- seen standing next to Young, seated in his wheelchair in the photo above --- wanted to meet with Bush so he could explain to her what that "noble cause" was. Bush flatly refused to meet with her, claiming that he had already met with her previously, after the death of her son.
I had interviewed Sheehan on my radio show two months earlier, just after she had testified before U.S. House Judiciary Committee Democrats in an extraordinary "basement hearing" in the U.S. Capitol, after the Republican U.S. House majority refused to allow a hearing on the war in a regular hearing room. So when I heard her being attacked by the Rightwing media, I figured it would be good to get to Crawford somehow and cover what was really going on there. The result was some 50 live hours of our "Operation Noble Cause" radio coverage from on the ground at "Camp Casey", in the middle of a cow pasture, 110 degree heat, and others in the media --- Air America, for example --- wondering how the hell we were able to broadcast live out of there. (Internet, hamster wheel generators, etc.)
We were interviewing as many folks as we could down there --- from all sides of the rapidly expanding political divide --- to tell the real story of what was going on during that incredible sea-change moment of American history.
On August 28, 2005, I interviewed 25-year old U.S. Army Specialist Tomas Young. He and his then wife Brie drove 13 hours from Kansas City down to Crawford on their honeymoon to support Sheehan. Young had joined the Army just two days after 9/11. He was later sent to Iraq, where, while on a harrowing rescue mission in an unarmored truck, he received a bullet to his spine in Sadr City, coincidentally on the same day that Sheehan's son Casey was killed in the same city. The attack left Young painfully paralyzed from the chest down, and his body unable even to cool itself. He had to have ice-packs tucked into his clothes in the incredibly hot weather, just to keep his body temperature down.
As Bush had refused to meet with Sheehan, Young explained during our conversation that he wanted to find out if he might be able to meet with Bush himself, since he had never been granted a meeting previously.
"I was watching the news back home, and I saw and heard that President Bush's reasoning for not meeting with Cindy was that he already met with her," he told me on air during our conversation. "Well, my life, and I don't mean to say it's been as seriously affected as Mrs. Sheehan's, but it's been quite seriously affected none the less."
"If he will meet with me, that's great, but if not, what would his reason be? Because he's never met me," he continued. "And I also wanted to find out and talk with him about why my quality of life isn't worth retaining through the wonders of stem cell research? Because, I mean, if I have the, uh...well, if I had the spine, and I did, to step up and go to war for him, why doesn't he have the spine to try to help give me mine back?"
We then came up with the cheeky idea to paint a sign to help the media take notice of his plight. Some of the other veterans who were there helped to create the sign and it was, indeed, picked up by AP at the time, as seen in the photograph at the top of this article.
Though he never got that meeting with Bush, the plan seems to have otherwise worked. The media, at least for a moment, noticed, at a very dark moment in our national history, when stories that offered a dim view of the war and of the Bush Administration had a very difficult time finding their way into the light of the mainstream corporate media.
The following year, Young's story was told on CBS' 60 Minutes, and then in a heart-wrenching 2007 documentary film, Body of War, by Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, covering his story and the unspeakable pain he suffered with each and every day. (My 2005 interview on the ground at "Camp Casey" with Tomas and Brie is seen briefly in both. The full audio from my interview with them is posted in full at the bottom of this article.)
He and Brie eventually divorced. He remarried in 2012. In 2013, ten years after the launch of the War on Iraq, he was in unceasing pain and what was left of his body was desperately failing. As Chris Hedges first reported at the time, he had decided to let himself die. He was in hospice care at the time.
He then penned an extraordinary "Last Letter" to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, which we were allowed to republish here in full. Here is a short quote...
My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.
But Young, as he looked at the time above, did not die that year. He continued on somehow for another year. And almost for another.
After his "Last Letter", I always took quiet comfort in seeing him tweaking authority and continuing to "stand up" for the under-served, under-privileged and over-looked victims of the wars and so much else on his Twitter feed, but that feed has now fallen silent.
Today, Veterans Day 2014, Democracy Now! reports, it was learned that Young has finally died.
The cause of his death is unknown today. But the cause of his life --- standing up for his fellow veterans, standing up courageously against war as one of the first veterans to come out loudly and proudly against the unprosecuted crime that was the War on Iraq, unapologetically shouting truth to power from whatever rooftop he was able to find and climb on to --- must never be forgotten.
Young died just weeks shy of his 35th birthday, another victim of the George W. Bush administration. Another casualty of their cynical and criminal war.
Thank you, Tomas. For all. Now rest in peace. Finally. In PEACE...
• Audio from my 8/25/05 interview with Tomas Young on The BRAD SHOW (my old syndicated weekend radio program), including the harrowing story of his injury, the experience he had afterward, what brought him to Camp Casey on his honeymoon, and our attempt to paint a sign in hopes of helping the corporate media do the job that America needed them to do --- all with the live sounds of Camp Casey in the background --- follows below...
PART 1: Young's story, with then wife Brie (MP3, 22 mins) ...
PART 2 - More w/ Young, hatching the plan to demand a meeting with George W. Bush (MP3, 14 mins) ...