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View Full Version : Shots in back killed Salem's war hero WALTERS Silver Star given for battle in Iraq



thedrifter
05-28-04, 11:59 AM
Shots in back killed Salem's war hero WALTERS Silver Star given for battle in Iraq

Sgt. Donald Walters, who was in Pfc. Jessica Lynch's unit, battled Iraqis before being captured and killed, military officials say
Friday, May 28, 2004

ALEX PULASKI and DAN HORTSCH
SALEM -- U.S. Army Sgt. Donald Walters, a former Salem man believed to have been killed in combat, was actually captured by Iraqi rebels and shot twice in the back while in custody, the military announced Thursday.

Walters, 33, a food service supervisor, was among nine members of the 507th Maintenance Company killed March 23, 2003, in southern Iraq. Seven others from the 507th, including Pfc. Jessica Lynch, were captured.

For months, actions now believed to have been Walters' were attributed to Lynch. Media inflated Lynch's myth by repeating distorted battlefield reports of a blond soldier returning enemy fire before being overwhelmed. The reality was that Lynch was gravely injured in a vehicle crash and never fired her weapon.

The latest chapter in how Sgt. Donald Walters fought and died is part of the first clearly defined war crimes inquiry against Iraqi combatants since U.S. and coalition troops entered the country last March.

"This is a criminal investigation . . . they killed him, shot him in the back," said Walters' mother, Arlene Walters of Salem.

The revelation comes as the Pentagon and Bush administration are under enormous pressure for the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Ore., who has pressed the Army for more than a year for clearer answers about how Sgt. Donald Walters died, said she didn't know whether Thursday's announcement was timed to relieve that pressure.

"All we want is the truth," Hooley said. "They say they have eyewitnesses, and they say they have DNA, and I have to assume those are accurate."

Although military officials briefed Hooley's staff earlier this week, along with Walters' parents, Hooley said her office was not given any documentation of the Army's findings.

Maj. Arnold Strong, public affairs officer for the Oregon Army National Guard, said Thursday that the new information on Walters' death resulted from a detailed forensic examination. Strong said that included matching genetic evidence from Walters' blood taken from his abandoned truck with DNA from a blood-stained wall in the building in which he was executed.

Investigators with the Department of Defense Criminal Investigation Task Force also located an Iraqi ambulance driver who took Walters' body from the site. The driver, Strong said, identified Walters by appearance of the body and other evidence, including the leg wound that Walters had suffered in battle.

"All of us are in awe at the level of detail" investigators have turned up, Strong said. He said that Walters' death topped a list of 17 criminal death investigations the Army task force is working on.

"Pool of suspects"

Investigators, Strong said, "have a pool of suspects," presumed to be Fedayeen rebels who captured Walters. Lynch and others were taken captive by different Iraqi forces.

Walters apparently was killed the same day he was captured, the Army said. Strong said it was unclear whether Walters' body was taken away by an ambulance driver that day or perhaps the next.

Arlene Walters and her husband, Norman, said they were grateful to the military for finding more answers about their son's death. They said they are angry that their son was executed after being captured with a leg wound.

Asked to compare the abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and what happened to their son, both parents said the mistreatment of Iraqis was unjust. But they saw no similarities in terms of criminal actions. "I can't begin to compare them," Norman Walters said. "He's dead. These folks are walking away."

The military has officially changed Sgt. Donald Walters' status from "killed in action" to "captured."

The deaths of Walters and his comrades came on the fourth day of the conflict, as the Army lumbered toward Baghdad. The role of the 507th, a collection of mechanics, clerks and cooks, was to support Patriot missile batteries.

Their motto was: "Just fix it." They had no combat experience.

An Army inquiry found that the 507th came under fire after its commander erroneously charted a course through hostile Nasiriyah. Their original route had been to bypass the city.

After driving through the city of 300,000, the 507th's convoy of 18 vehicles -- nearly all of them huge trucks and trailers -- turned around and passed again through Nasiriyah.

It was then that the lost and exhausted soldiers came under attack. In interviews, many survivors said they were unable to get off a shot because their rifles jammed.

The Army found that the rifles might not have been maintained properly against windblown sand.

Sand or gunfire damages vehicle

The Army's official report on the attack was released last summer to family members of those killed. It concluded that the vehicle in which Walters and another soldier were riding, like most in the convoy, was disabled by gunfire or bogged down in sand.

"It is unclear whether Sgt. Walters was picked up by others in the convoy or remained in the area of the disabled tractor-trailer," the report said. "There is some information to suggest that a U.S. soldier, that could have been Walters, fought his way south of Highway 16 towards a canal and was killed in action.

"Sgt. Walters was in fact killed at some point during this portion of the attack. The circumstances of his death cannot be conclusively determined by available information."

The same report noted that war crimes investigations were ongoing, but provided no details.

At the time, Arlene Walters said her oldest son had died from gunshot wounds to the torso, according to casualty reports supplied by the Army.

Sgt. Donald Walters was originally given a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his actions. But last month, after congressional pressure from Hooley and others, the military upgraded his medal to the Silver Star, the Army's third-highest award for heroism.

The award ceremony was held April 12 at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery in Kansas, exactly a year after Walters was buried there.

At the ceremony's conclusion, his widow, Stacie Walters of Kansas City, Mo., asked for some time to be alone at his grave.

"I told him that I loved him and that I'm proud of him," she said. "Then I kissed his headstone and I walked away."

Alex Pulaski, 503-221-8516; alexpulaski@news.oregonian.com Dan Hortsch: 503-221-8223; danhortsch@news.oregonian.com

http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/front_page/108574561388130.xml


Ellie