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Iraq veteran seeks others from recent war
by Gary Kent
Apr 01, 2013 | 1833 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thomas James was wounded twice during deployments in Iraq and lost the lower part of his right leg. The one-time gunner on an Abrams tank crew said he would like to see veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan form a local organization.
Thomas James was wounded twice during deployments in Iraq and lost the lower part of his right leg. The one-time gunner on an Abrams tank crew said he would like to see veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan form a local organization.
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BEEVILLE — Few of Bee County’s veterans are as familiar with the rigors of war as Thomas James.

The one-time Army buck sergeant has the scars and the Purple Hearts to show for it.

But to see the 28-year-old walking down the street, no one would realize he walks on a prosthetic right leg, that his right hand has been broken and his spine and tailbone have been fractured.

Even though he is considered 100 percent disabled by the Veterans Administration, James has trouble finding the assistance he sometimes needs from the federal government or the fellowship of others who have survived the country’s two most recent wars.

Although he is sure Beeville has plenty of veterans who survived Iraq and Afghanistan, James does not know any of the ones living here.

“I know two guys from Three Rivers and one guy from George West,” the former Abrams tank gunner said.

“I’m interested in starting an organization,” James said. He knows there must be other veterans of the recent wars who share that desire.

James first went to Iraq during 2004-05. It was during that deployment that he earned his first Purple Heart.

James was part of a security escort for a commanding officer attending a chain of command meeting in Balad.

As the escort approached a van parked nearby, mortar rounds started raining down on the group.

They ran for cover. But as they passed the van, the vehicle exploded.

James said the van had been loaded down with ammunition. He was hit by shrapnel in the right hand and hit in the right leg by a 7.62-by-39mm round.

The veteran would see Iraq two more times before he suffered his career-ending wounds.

He returned briefly in 2006 to deliver some equipment and then went back for another yearlong deployment in 2007.

On April 27 of that year, the tank in which James was riding was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) in the City of Samarra.

A team of explosives ordinance disposal experts investigated the aftermath of the blast and said the tank had been hit by the equivalent of about 13 155mm artillery rounds.

James’ left ankle and heel were crushed, his right hand was broken again, his right lung was punctured, his back and tailbone were broken and he lost his right leg just below the ankle.

The veteran managed a slight grin when he said, “It was destined for me to lose that leg.”

James said it is hard for a wounded veteran to find a job. But he has found work with Born Enterprises as a cabinet maker and carpenter.

Today, James is divorced, has two children and is engaged to be married again.

“I know for me, I’ve had a really hard time getting things done,” he said of his experiences with the VA. He is aware that veterans’ organizations can offer considerable help in securing the benefits veterans have earned.

Although there is a veterans representative here, those who have served cannot find the type of assistance that is available in the larger cities.

“In the military, it’s brothers helping out brothers,” James said.

“Back here it’s difficult. But I’m sure there are a lot of people who would like to talk about their experiences,” the veteran said. “We just need a support network.”

Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.
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