"Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush, you are responsible"

An open letter from the wife of a soldier who lost his leg in Iraq.

By Salon Staff
Published October 14, 2004 3:06AM (UTC)
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Dear President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld,

My husband, David Pettigrew, lost his right leg in Iraq on July 7, 2003. During a night patrol with his unit in the Army's 4th Infantry Division, an RPG round struck his Bradley fighting vehicle. The armor-penetrating round -- which, according to faulty U.S. intelligence, the enemy wasn't even supposed to have -- tore straight through his leg and lodged in the opposite wall of the vehicle.


The next two months of my life were spent at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, at my husband's side in Ward 57. We were in the same room where Pvt. Jessica Lynch had gotten some treatment.

I knew what would follow when our troops went to invade Iraq. I knew that the facts did not add up, but my husband went to do his duty, even though he believed in no reason for going other than to fulfill his oath to follow the orders of his commanders. I have a degree in political science. I am the daughter of an Air Force officer. I knew the ramifications of occupying a hostile foreign country. I simply do not understand how the two of you, our president and commander in chief and our secretary of defense, did not have the same information that I had. Now, Iraq is a mess.

Secretary Rumsfeld, my husband and I met you at Walter Reed. You asked my husband only three questions and asked none of me. It wasn't even a conversation. You wanted to know how David got hurt, whether anyone else was hurt with him, and whether his unit got the guys that did it. You did not ask if David needed anything or if there was anything that you could do to help. Both Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, and Anthony J. Principi, the secretary of veterans affairs, gave David their cards and instructed him to call if there was anything he needed and was not getting. But you were simply speechless. You were in a hurry. It seemed like you almost didn't care. It seemed like you only wanted to know whether the military forces were being efficient.


My husband David is a very friendly person and a very good speaker. Even if he felt any kind of hard feeling toward you then, Secretary Rumsfeld, he didn't show it. But it was a very off-putting encounter, and I know he was somewhat out of sorts about it. Everyone else he's talked to about what happened to him has asked all sorts of follow-up questions because it was remarkable that he didn't die. They gave him 13 pints of blood between when he got hurt and when he was evacuated to the field hospital -- that's an incredible amount of blood to lose in 40 minutes.

I'm not sure the American public understands that our soldiers are being maimed over there. People hear about our soldiers being wounded, but they're being maimed: They've lost an eye or an arm or a leg. David and I couldn't feel sorry for ourselves over David's injury -- because the guy in the room next to him in the ICU had lost both legs and arms and was permanently blinded.

Under the military way of life and thought, a commander is responsible for errors that occur under his command whether he knew about them or not. Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush, you are responsible for the inaccurate intelligence assessments, inadequate troop strength, Iraqi prisoner abuses, inadequate logistical support for U.S. forces, and fraudulent contracting billing for the Iraq reconstruction. And you should care about every combat death or injury that occurs.


Your behavior has been inexcusable. You have been dishonest about the support the troops weren't getting and about what's happening on the ground in Iraq. I only have one vote. And my husband, David, is so disheartened that he feels his vote will not even matter. He has no faith left in our current government. I want all those who voted for you, President Bush, or who failed to vote, to realize that your actions led to my husband's terrible injury, as well as those of all the dutiful men and women who fulfilled your demands and have been maimed or killed in Iraq as a result of the administration's miscalculations and poor judgment.

I ask anyone else reading this who wants to know how the military community feels about this administration to take my words to heart. There is a reason why many lieutenants in the 4th Infantry Division have resigned their commissions. Many of them got out; they wanted no part of it. I'm sorry, but if soldiers think they're doing the right thing, carrying out a mission that's valuable and necessary, they don't leave. They go back and serve their second tour.


Polls in Colorado, my state, open on Oct. 18. I hope Americans don't wait until Nov. 2. I hope they vote early and often -- in every election. I hope all Americans exercise their responsibility and their right to hold you, Mr. President and Secretary Rumsfeld, accountable for your actions and the events that have resulted.

-- Ann Pettigrew, Colorado

Salon Staff

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