By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 17, 2006
On a day when Christians celebrated the story of the open tomb and the empty shroud, Sgt. Jeffery Redman arrived early yesterday for a sunrise Easter service with a white sheet draped over the leg that he nearly lost.
He was among more than 400 people, including about a half-dozen injured soldiers, who assembled to pray on a breezy spring morning at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest Washington. Others viewed the service on video screens near their hospital beds. Potted lilies ringed the stage where country singer Ricky Scaggs performed with wife Sharon White, a noted singer in her own right. The Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of minister Billy Graham, delivered a sermon on the 50th anniversary of his renowned father's appearance there. Among the VIPs was Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).
As people filled chairs on the sloping lawn of the hospital's Rose Garden, Redman, 34, a member of the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles based at Fort Campbell, Ky., explained why he was there.
He lifted the sheet. His left leg, waxy and sallow, was circled by Lego-like braces with long pins that look like bicycle spokes holding the shattered bones in place. A purple gash near his left calf, almost as big as a doughnut, showed where shrapnel from a mortar round had torn into him. Purple scars ran like seams from his feet to his thighs where doctors had stitched him together again.
But Redman said the religious faith that had sustained him -- from the moment he fell outside an Iraqi "safe house" in the desert, through evacuation to Europe, through surgery and 54 pints of other people's blood -- had also brought him to this spot close to the stage for the Walter Reed Army hospital's 80th annual sunrise service.
"It's important to me because, one, my family's religious. Because, two, if it wasn't for Him, I wouldn't be alive -- I'd be dead," said Redman, a father of three from Concord, N.C. "So I give thanks to Him every day."
Walter Reed Army Medical Center has treated 4,913 military personnel since the war in Iraq began, including 1,468 battle casualties. The hospital, which is scheduled to close permanently in 2011, currently has 28 inpatients.
Graham, noting that one of his sons is an Army Ranger who has served a tour in Iraq and now is on duty in an undisclosed location, told how the Bible is full of warrior wisdom. He also urged the military members to heed the faithful examples of Joshua, who razed the walls of Jericho with a clarion blast, and Gideon, who reduced his forces in the face of the enemy, and David, who slew Goliath with a stone.
"You see, the greatest battle we face in this world is the battle for the souls of men and women," Graham said. And he tied the sacrifice of Jesus to the sacrifice that military personnel must make.
"God bless each and every one of you. We love you, and we stand with you. Thank you," he said.
The cool morning air prompted medics to circulate through the crowd with blankets for some of the injured soldiers, and it momentarily played havoc with the tuning of Scaggs's acoustic guitar. Skaggs, a Grammy recipient who had mastered the mandolin well enough by age 5 to join bluegrass legend Bill Monroe on stage, accompanied his wife in "The Old Rugged Cross." Skaggs also soloed against a backing track with "Somebody's Praying."
Gracie Rosenberger, a Tennessee-based evangelist who lost both legs in a 1983 car accident, sang, too, and she spoke directly to the loss that some of the soldiers have felt.
"I know what it's like to pull back the bedsheet and see less of your body and wonder: 'Am I going to be a freak? Will people stare? Will people accept me?' " she said.
Nervous energy had Marine Lance Cpl. Kade Hinkhouse pumping the stump of his right leg as he waited for the service to begin. As a high school student in Burlington, Colo., Hinkhouse, 20, enlisted because he believed someone had to.
Hinkhouse was riding in a five-ton truck in Ar Ramadi last October, preparing to drop off some snipers, when a double-stacked bomb went off. The explosion destroyed his right leg and sent a piece of shrapnel into his skull. He said he was, relatively speaking, lucky. Sitting just six inches from him in the truck had been Lance Cpl. Sergio H. Escobar. Escobar, of Pasadena, Calif., was killed in the explosion. He was 18.
Hinkhouse said his experience has left him with little sensation on his left side. It has made him more religious. But it has not shaken his faith that the war was necessary.
"For me, I came to terms with it, because I can't go back in time. I can't change it. I can only help the guys who are coming in now," he said.