By 2nd Lt. Olivia CobiskeySeptember 6, 2007
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 6, 2007) - Sgt. Bryan Anderson didn't hear the explosion that ripped his vehicle apart in southeast Baghdad. "I didn't hear it. I saw the light and the flash," he said of the roadside bomb that changed his life.
The first thing he noticed afterward was his fingertip ... gone. Then he noticed his entire hand and his legs - also gone.
That was Oct. 23, 2005 - Sgt. Anderson's "alive day."
"Everybody makes a big deal about your 'alive day,' especially at Walter Reed," Sgt. Anderson said during the Aug. 30 premiere of HBO's "Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq" at The Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago.
The documentary surveys the physical and emotional cost of war through the memories of wounded Soldiers' "Alive day," the day they narrowly escaped death in Iraq. James Gandolfini, executive producer, interviewed ten Soldiers and Marines about their feelings on their future, their severe disabilities and their devotion to America.
This is HBO Documentary Films' third production focusing on the war in Iraq, following "Baghdad ER" and "Last Letters Home: Voices of American Troops from the Battlefields of Iraq."
"These men and women show us what true courage and heroism is," said Jon Alpert, who photographed and produced the documentary. "The film promises to tell you about the horror and heroism of war."
Mr. Alpert told the crowd of nearly 500 people gathered to view the documentary that for the first time in American history, 90 percent of those wounded are surviving their injuries. However, a greater percentage of these men are women are returning with amputations, traumatic brain injuries and severe post-traumatic stress. Although many of the servicemembers would prefer to return to their units, more than half of these injuries are too severe for servicemembers to return to active military service.
Spc. Crystal Davis stayed on active duty after recovering from her injuries. The 23-year-old from Camden, S.C., is training to become a military physical therapist technician.
"... who better to help those in need than someone who has been there herself'" asked Spc. Davis, who was injured in Ar Ramadi Jan. 21, 2006, causing her right leg to be amputated below the knee. Every bone below her left knee, including her knee, was also broken.
"For me to be a female below-knee amputee and still be active duty in the U.S. Army will be plenty of motivation for them to strive to succeed," she said.
The six Soldiers and four Marines who spoke with Mr. Gandolfini range from ages 21 to 41, and their injuries range from triple-limb amputations to severe traumatic brain injury and blindness.
"The fight doesn't stop when you get home. In our cases, it's just begun," Marine Cpl. Jake Schick told Mr. Gandolfini during the documentary.
Cpl. Schick, who was wounded Sept. 20, 2004, near Baghdad, lost his right leg and has severe wounds to his left arm and leg.
At one moment in the film, 1st Lt. Dawn Halfaker, whose right arm and shoulder were amputated, is overwhelmed.
The 27-year-old from San Diego, Ca., stares off into space and tears well up in her eyes.
When Mr. Gandolfini asked her what she was thinking she said, "I won't be able to pick up my son or daughter with two arms."
For others, just being alive is enough.
"If I can lose my legs and still be alive and be with my kids and wife then that's the way it's got to be," said Marine Staff Sgt. John Jones, 29, San Antonio, Texas. "God's given me a second chance."
Sgt. Anderson, 26, lost his right leg at the hip, his left leg six inches below the hip and his left arm below the elbow. His right hand was also shattered. He became the fourth U.S. servicemember to lose three limbs in Iraq and survive. He stabilized enough to get to Water Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where his rehab began.
While there, he received 40 operations in 13 months. But being an amputee hasn't stopped him. He's tried rock climbing, wake boarding, white water rafting, water skiing and snow skiing. He even has aspirations of being a Hollywood stuntman.
When asked what he wanted people to take away from the film, Sgt. Anderson answered, "We're all ok. We're living our lives and doing ok."
The documentary will be available on HBO on Demand Sept. 10 through Oct. 8, and will be streamed on hbo.com beginning Sept. 10. The Web site will also include Soldier profiles, personal videos and blogs, and exclusive portraits by photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.
For more information on the Soldiers and Marines in the documentary visit www.hbo.com.