A Union Tested by War

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 28, 2006

A few weeks after an explosion tore off his legs and part of his right arm, Army Sgt. Joseph Bozik felt the time had come to tell his girlfriend she no longer was bound by their plans for marriage.

He asked his mother to leave his hospital room at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and addressed his girlfriend, Jayme Peters. "Be completely honest with me," he said. "If you want to go home, that's fine."

As she broke into tears, Bozik said he'd be okay, and he would understand completely. He knew she had not bargained for a husband like this.

Along with its impact on bodies and minds, the war in Iraq has deeply affected military marriages and relationships. It has presented some young couples with an age-old choice: wed before departure to the front or wait until homecoming. And it has forced married couples to endure long, repeated separations.

But experts say the hardest challenge can be when a spouse or lover comes home catastrophically injured.

"The young stud that the woman married, when he comes back injured, is no longer a stud," said one Army counselor.

Couples have had to face reunions in which the returning soldier or Marine has lost one, two or three limbs, has been disfigured or paralyzed, or has suffered a permanent, debilitating brain injury.

The couple must reexamine the foundation on which their relationship is built, experts say. The two might have to accept new roles, in which the spouse may be the chief breadwinner and caregiver. And the injured service member may feel like less of a person and wonder if he or she is still really loved.

Kay Eady, 50, a teacher from Albany, Ga., said she often tells her husband, Clarence, 41, who is recovering at Walter Reed from the loss of a leg in Iraq: "You're more a man to me now -- for someone to go through that and come out smiling."

But Michael J. Wagner, director of Walter Reed's medical family assistance center, said he once heard a spouse say in front of her injured husband: "How can I deal with this? He's not even a whole man anymore."

One young soldier at Walter Reed recuperating from a double amputation said recently that his war injuries were the last blow to his four-year marriage. He said his wife already was unhappy with his two tours in Iraq.

Speaking anonymously because he is in the midst of a divorce, he said she left the hospital partway through his recovery, telling his mother she was not coming back.

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