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Talking Wounded

Terry Rodgers
"It was something I always wanted to do," Terry Rodgers says of joining the Army. "I thought it looked fun." After being wounded by an insurgent bomb in Iraq, he's back at the family home in Gaithersburg, living in what used to be the dining room because he can't get upstairs. (Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

"I always had somebody to talk to," he says.

He got visits from celebrities, too. Generals came by to shake his hand and ask how he was doing. The Dave Matthews Band visited, as did players from the Washington Nationals and Colorado Rockies.

"I didn't catch their names," he says. "I was kind of high on morphine at the time. And you can't read their autographs."

One day a nurse came in to ask Rodgers if he wanted to meet President Bush, who was visiting the hospital. Rodgers declined.

"I don't want anything to do with him," he explains. "My belief is that his ego is getting people killed and mutilated for no reason -- just his ego and his reputation. If we really wanted to, we could pull out of Iraq. Maybe not completely but enough that we wouldn't be losing people -- at least not at this rate. So I think he himself is responsible for quite a few American deaths."

Bill Swisher, a spokesman for Walter Reed, says it's "fairly common" for patients to decline to see visitors. "We've had visitors from Sheryl Crow to Hulk Hogan," he says, but he has no idea how many have refused to see Bush, who has visited the hospital eight times.

Rodgers says he also declined to meet Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice. This wounded soldier has lost faith in his leaders, and he no longer believes their repeated assurances of victory.

"It's gonna go on as long as we're there," he says. "There's always gonna be insurgents trying to blow us up. There's just too many of 'em that are willing to do it. You're never gonna catch all of 'em. And it seems like they have unlimited amounts of ammunition. So I don't think it's ever gonna end."

Moving On

"I can start putting weight on the leg and learn to walk again," Rodgers says.

He's lying in bed, head propped up on a pillow with an American flag design on it. He can't climb the stairs to his old bedroom so he's got a new one -- it used to be the family dining room. Next to his bed is a little table topped with three bottles of pills, a stick of Right Guard and a statue of Jesus.

He's been home for a few weeks now. He's feeling pretty good and is fairly optimistic about his future.

"I should be able to walk normally," he says. "My eye -- we really don't know about that yet. I might get some vision back. I lost most of the hearing in my right ear."

By the end of the year, he'll be out of the Army -- "medically retired" -- and he's happy about that: "I did my tour. I had my fun. Time to move on with my life."

He wants to go to school -- the Veterans Administration will pay for it, he says -- but he's not sure what he wants to study. "I've got a few ideas, but I don't know what I want to do yet."

For now, he'd like to get back on his feet and take a few weekend trips while he goes to rehab during the week. And he wants to get reacquainted with his old friends. Maybe he can tell them what Iraq is like, he says, but it won't be easy.

"They see it on TV, but they can only guess what it feels like over there," he says. "To actually be there and feel it and hear it -- I don't think many people have a clue what it's like."

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