Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Perspective: Wounded and waiting at Walter Reed

Leaning over the sink in an almost-clean barracks bathroom across the street from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Pvt. Robert Van Antwerp, 20, quickly sheared the hair of his new roommate into a fresh crew cut.

“This is what my dad does when he really wants to get to know someone,” Van Antwerp said, referring to Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, head of the Army’s Accessions Command. “He cuts hair. Now it’s a family tradition.”

His dad told him people reveal their deepest secrets while sitting in a barber’s chair, he said. It builds that sense of camaraderie — of taking care of each other.

“I cut hair the whole time I was in Iraq,” he said.

But as he cut, Van Antwerp revealed much more about himself than did his customer — who fell asleep in Van Antwerp’s gentle hands.

A pale scar creates a deep furrow connecting Van Antwerp’s eyebrows. Doctors replaced bone with titanium after he fractured his skull. Bare-chested as he trimmed, Van Antwerp has a deep, laddered line from beneath his sternum to at least the top of his sweatpants. A blast ruptured his spleen and ripped out his colon. Pushing up his left pant leg as he told his battle story, Van Antwerp showed where three ligaments tore away from his knee, and then pointed out the scar from his broken tibia.

Above his heart, the ranks and last names of two dead friends are etched in ink. But he calls a friend to ask their first names. Short-term memory loss arrived for Van Antwerp in the same attack that killed his buddies.

Read the rest at the Army Times