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Wounds give combat veterans unique perspective

DULUTH

anners will be flown. Wreaths will be laid. Bands will strike up and flag-waving onlookers will watch parades and solemn ceremonies in remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

But as the country prepares to honor its war dead on Monday, another class of warriors stands in humble silence, nurturing a love for those who didn't make it back and an almost guilty modesty about their own brand of sacrifice. They are the wounded, those who were injured in combat and who carry with them the physical and emotional scars of war long after the guns go silent.

In Gwinnett this Memorial Day, three men find themselves at various points along the same path - the long journey taken by mind and soul after the body is invaded by bullets and shrapnel.

One just turned 83, and that he made it past 20 is an almost indescribable miracle. Another is still doing now what he was doing nearly 40 years ago when he was hit - helping wounded soldiers. And the third still wears a cast while he battles the uncertainty that came along with the bomb that blasted into him on an Iraqi roadside.

Three men. Three wars. Three different stories behind their Purple Hearts. All bound by a common courage and loyalty to their country - and to their brothers in arms.

A naive young kid

Donald Ogden sat in Roseland, New Jersey, listening on the radio to Franklin Roosevelt talking about a sneak attack on a naval base in Hawaii. Thousands were dead, the fleet all but crippled. He called it a day that would live in infamy. Ogden immediately knew what he had to do. His country needed him.

But not just yet. He was too young, they said.

So as soon as he turned 18, Ogden returned to the recruitment station and soon found himself in the Army Air Corps. At the time he had no idea just what he was getting into or how squarely he would land - literally - in the middle of the war one day.

"I was a really naive young kid," he said. "I didn't realize the Germans had bullets."

Ogden became a flight engineer on a B-24 bomber. On his first mission an embarrassing event later proved to be one of a series of miracles that kept him alive.

"I got airsick right over the target. Heaved up in my mask."

After that, he wasn't allowed on the flight deck. Forced to fly in the nose of the plane, Ogden manned a machine gun and watched for enemy fighters.

Based in Italy, his bomber group struck at Hitler's war machine and lost planes and men at a horrifying rate, including 27 planes in one day.

"Ten men to a plane," he said. "We got over there and we were losing airplanes so rapidly none of us expected to get out alive."

Ogden watched plane after plane go down over Europe, wondering when it would happen to him.

He got his answer on June 16, 1944, on his 22nd mission. Just short of the target in Vienna, Austria, the German fighters pounced at 23,000 feet, more than four miles above the ground.

"The first thing I noticed was two huge holes in my left hand," Ogden says. He'd been hit by 20mm cannon fire, but for some reason he felt no pain. He'd also been hit in the back, but he didn't feel that either.

He could feel the plane going down though, and he knew he had to get out. That proved easier said than done.

"I had a lot of trouble getting out of the airplane. The airplane was on fire," he said.

The plane was in a flat spin, which created a tremendous amount of centrifugal force, making it hard to move around. He got tangled in a cord that plugged into a heated suit he was wearing. Then he couldn't get out of the turret. Finally, he got to the escape hatch in the belly of the plane. He sat down and took off his flak jacket.

"The back was all shot to pieces," he said. "But that suit saved my life."

But he still wasn't out of the plane. With his feet hanging out next to the landing gear, Ogden snapped on his parachute, but he put it on backwards. He removed it and put it on the right way.

And leapt out into the sky.

'You landed in Hell'

To this day he doesn't know what made him do it, but as he jumped out of his burning airplane, Ogden grabbed the door frame on the hatch.

He smacked the belly of the plane and one of the propellers went right by his ear.

"I bounced off to the right side. It was close. God was not willing to let me go yet."

Still nearly three miles up in the air, Ogden was finally free of the plane, but somehow his situation had worsened.

With the airplane directly overhead and falling at the same rate of speed, Ogden couldn't open his parachute without it getting tangled in the plane. So he fell. And fell. And fell.

For three miles Ogden plummeted toward the earth, with what he thought would be the last seconds of his life ticking by, the falling plane continuing to menace him overhead.

But another miracle was coming his way. Just before he hit the ground, the plane veered off. He pulled his rip cord.

And hit the ground on the flat of his back. His chute never fully deployed, yet somehow he was alive.

"I talked to some people from the Airborne, and they estimate I was probably going 150 miles per hour. You tell people that and they look up at you like 'What do you think we are, stupid?' ... I couldn't tell you, I just know what happened to me."

Ogden's story, in fact, is not the only one of people falling from incredible heights and surviving. An airman aboard a B-17 lived after falling 22,000 feet and crashing through the glass roof of a train station in 1943. "The Guinness Book of World Records" lists a 33,000-foot fall by a flight attendant from a DC-9 as the official record.

And a newspaper account of the day Ogden was shot down quotes another airman who said he saw only two parachutes deploy from the airplane, yet three men survived.

Despite crushed vertebrae in his back that he wouldn't know about for years, Ogden somehow got to his feet. His B-24 had crashed a couple of hundred feet away. Everybody on the flight deck was dead. If he hadn't gotten sick that first day, he'd have been with them.

Ogden's crew, which he described as family, was mostly gone, and while he was still alive, his ordeal was to get much worse. As one of his captors would later tell him, "You didn't land on the Earth. You landed in Hell."

A prisoner of war

Despite the danger around him, miracles would continue to follow Ogden for the rest of the war.

"God took very good care of me, that's all I can say."

Ogden was immediately captured by Hungarians who questioned him about the plane, then took him to a jail. They made him sit on his parachute in the vehicle so he wouldn't get blood on the seat. Later a local doctor cut the shrapnel from his back and bandaged his hand.

Ogden was taken to a hospital, which was later destroyed in a bombing raid, but he survived because he was in the basement.

He was transferred to a POW camp, where he suffered from dysentery and lice. The Germans starved him until he weighed less than 100 pounds. He was shot at by the enemy and by Americans while on a forced march for three months some 800 miles across Europe, during which he slept in the snow.

And yet he found the will to keep going.

One more miracle

Near the end of the war, Ogden and his fellow prisoners were being kept in a barn somewhere in Germany as the Allies closed in on their position.

He weighed a little more than 80 pounds and was too weak to try an escape. Mortar fire was shaking the barn. The Germans were being hit from two directions, Russians on one side and British on the other. Death closed in from all sides.

But there was one miracle left for Ogden. The barn door opened. A British soldier looked inside and said: "Cheerio, chaps, you're now free men."

He was going home.

The Brits took the now ex-POWs to their camp and tried to feed them, but their stomachs had shrunk so much that they just threw it back up.

Eventually Ogden was able to start eating again. He was taken to France to prepare for the trip home.

"That night I heard a radio. ... I heard Jack Benny and I said 'Boy, I'm free now.'"

Back from the brink

Ogden returned home a free man, but in many ways the war wouldn't let him go.

"I came home in very bad shape emotionally. I was having a very hard time coping. The VA never could help me. I went through horrible times with depression. I went into deep depression. I kept waking up reliving being shot down."

Ogden says he was awful to his wife, that he treated people horribly for years because of his depression. He tried antidepressants and tranquilizers, but nothing worked. He just couldn't shake the memories. Finally, on the verge of suicide, he asked his pastor to pray for him. He thought he might kill himself.

A British soldier may have freed him from the Germans, but it was a 9-year-old girl who finally pulled Ogden out of his mental prison. He struck up a conversation with a neighbor girl named Raquel at a supermarket one day. The girl and her smiling face made an impression on him somehow, and the next day, for the first time in years, he woke up thinking about something besides being shot down. He saw the child's smiling face instead. For once, he woke up with a happy thought.

"That was six or seven years ago at least, and I haven't taken an anti-depressant since."

Hit by a booby trap

Bob Carpenter had been in the Army for four years when he got the orders to go to Vietnam.

Originally from West Virginia, Carpenter joined the service in 1964. Trained as a medic, Carpenter's job when he arrived in Vietnam in 1968 was to get wounded men out of the jungle. Two months into his first tour of duty, he was wounded himself.

"We were in the process of Medevacing out a man that'd got his foot blown off by a booby trap. ... We were setting out four-point security so he could land the chopper and have security, and one of the guys right behind me that had an M-60, when he bent down on his knee, set off another booby trap."

The booby trap sprayed shrapnel into the back of Carpenter's legs and into the stomachs of everyone in front of him. It hurt and it burned.

"It knocked everybody down. ... When it explodes, it's like getting hit with a hundred little needles, hot needles."

He was hurt, but Carpenter quickly realized his injuries weren't as bad as some of the other men.

"(There were) people injured more than I was, and my concern was getting them on the chopper. ... I had another medic look at me and we just pulled what shrapnel was in me out."

A helicopter originally called for one man took out five wounded soldiers that day. Carpenter himself got bandaged up and then continued on with the mission.

A life of reward

Carpenter remained a medic in the field for three more months, helping to get an average of four or five wounded soldiers a week on a chopper, earning a Bronze Star to go with his Purple Heart in the process. He later moved to a military hospital, did two tours and spent two years in Vietnam working with wounded.

"I think it's the most rewarding job in the military. To be able to save a life, you can't ask for much more than that.

"You made a difference. I never kept up with any of them that I treated or anything, but I know if they didn't get on the chopper they wouldn't have made it. And I got them on the chopper."

Carpenter made a career of the military, staying in until 1991, and he continues to make a difference in the lives of veterans today. Now, as the service officer for the Duluth American Legion Post, he works with veterans to make sure they get the benefits and help they deserve "anytime somebody has a problem."

One of those men is Bill Anderson.

'I wasn't gonna come home early'

Bill Anderson's Army uniform looks like most any other, except for the cast on his leg.

Anderson, 47, recently had an operation on his foot to repair damage he didn't know he had. He's also had surgery on his back, courtesy of a roadside bomb.

Anderson believes its his job to serve. He was a Marine in the 1970s. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, he tried to rejoin, but they told him no. After Sept. 11 he tried once again to re-enlist. Again he was told no, he was too old.

Then a buddy mentioned the National Guard. They were taking older guys. Anderson signed up. He worked for the Transportation Security Administration at the airport until his Lawrenceville unit was deployed to Iraq.

So nearly 30 years after already having served his country once as a Marine, Anderson was back in the service, patrolling supply routes near Baghdad.

Anderson was driving a Bradley Fighting Vehicle on the morning of Sept. 27, 2005.

"We were looking for IEDs to keep the route open," he said. "It was the end of our route. It's just like (Interstate) 85, it's a highway," he said. "We had pulled down to one of the worst places. ... We have to cross the sand in the median to go to the other side.

"I had my hatch cracked so I could see. We were turning. It looked clear. Just as we got to the other side, it went off."

The explosion blew him backward in his hatch and knocked him out for a little while.

"I woke up, people were yelling at me. I couldn't see because my goggles were messed up," he said. "It dumped rocks all in my lap."

Anderson was hurt, but his vehicle commander was injured worse.

The concussion injured Anderson's back, neck and foot. He had a piece of something embedded in his face. He had a ticket home.

But Anderson wasn't leaving.

"We were hurting. Both of us were," he said. "They told me I could go home. I just didn't want to go home. I wanted to stay the whole tour. I couldn't leave the guys there. I wasn't gonna come home early."

'You never do see

who does it'

Despite being wounded Anderson went back on patrol.

"I stayed the whole tour. I didn't leave. I went back out that day. My injuries got worse and worse. I was hurting over there, but I stayed."

Though in pain, getting wounded didn't affect Anderson as much as seeing his buddies get killed.

"Being blown up didn't bother me," he said. "What upset me was other people getting hurt. You see dead people all the time."

One sergeant's death struck him hard.

"He had kids and everything. I hate that he died. The vehicle was completely gone. They killed everybody in the vehicle. There was nothing left."

It's a pain compounded by not knowing who did it.

"You never do see who does it. But we still try to find them," Anderson said. "What goes through your mind is it irritates you because you think you're trying to help people and they're trying to kill you. After a while you want to kill them. You want to get the bad guys. They don't have uniforms on saying 'bad guys' on their forehead. ... It's a real messed up situation."

Recovery in limbo

Anderson and Carpenter were friends through the American Legion before Anderson's deployment. When Anderson got wounded, he sought Carpenter's advice.

"I told him to stay over there and make sure he got a physical before he got out," Carpenter said. "Since that time he's had an operation on his back, an operation on his foot, they found a broken bone they didn't know he had."

At first, Anderson was unhappy with the level of medical care, but since coming home he's been pleased.

"I'm really happy with it. I didn't like Ft. Stewart. I didn't get much care there. But since I've been home, I've been happy."

Carpenter wants to make sure Anderson gets the benefits and care he deserves. Anderson does as well, which is why he made sure his Purple Heart papers were pushed through. The award has been approved, but he hasn't received it yet.

"The reason I want it is because it gives me certain rights when I try to get care," Anderson said.

Meanwhile, Anderson is stuck at home with an uncertain future.

"I don't know what kind of job I'm going to get," he said. "I don't know if I'm going to have a permanent limp. I'm used to doing stuff."

Journeys continue

Don Ogden still has trouble sometimes with his memories of World War II, but now he focuses on other things. He takes care of his wife of nearly 60 years who has suffered strokes, and he just celebrated his 83rd birthday. He was to have laid a POW wreath at a Memorial Day service in Duluth on Saturday.

Bob Carpenter spent 27 years in the military, but his service to his fellow soldiers goes on through his beloved American Legion. He lives across the street from it in Duluth and recently turned 60.

Bill Anderson waits, recovers and tries to stay positive, his life as a wounded soldier just beginning.

"I've still got dust on my gear," he said.

He hopes to return to his job with Homeland Security at the airport, but right now he just doesn't know.

"I'm in limbo," he said. "I try not to let it get me down. I've seen some guys that had a lot worse."