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The Hotel Aftermath
Two Washington Post reporters spent hundreds of hours in Mologne House documenting the intimate struggles of the wounded who live there. The reporting was done without the knowledge or permission of Walter Reed officials, but all those directly quoted in this article agreed to be interviewed.
The hotel is built in the Georgian revival style, and inside it offers the usual amenities: daily maid service, front-desk clerks in formal vests and a bar off the lobby that opens every afternoon.
But at this bar, the soldier who orders a vodka tonic one night says to the bartender, "If I had two hands, I'd order two." The customers sitting around the tables are missing limbs, their ears are melted off, and their faces are tattooed purple by shrapnel patterns.
Most everyone has a story about the day they blew up: the sucking silence before immolation, how the mouth filled with tar, the lungs with gas.
"First thing I said was, '[Expletive], that was my good eye,' " a soldier with an eye patch tells an amputee in the bar.
The amputee peels his beer label. "I was awake through the whole thing," he says. "It was my first patrol. The second [expletive] day in Iraq and I get blown up."
When a smooth-cheeked soldier with no legs orders a fried chicken dinner and two bottles of grape soda to go, a kitchen worker comes out to his wheelchair and gently places the Styrofoam container on his lap.
A scrawny young soldier sits alone in his wheelchair at a nearby table, his eyes closed and his chin dropped to his chest, an empty Corona bottle in front of him.
Those who aren't old enough to buy a drink at the bar huddle outside near a magnolia tree and smoke cigarettes. Wearing hoodies and furry bedroom slippers, they look like kids at summer camp who've crept out of their rooms, except some have empty pants legs or limbs pinned by medieval-looking hardware. Medication is a favorite topic.
"Dude, [expletive] Paxil saved my life."
"I been on methadone for a year, I'm tryin' to get off it."
"I didn't take my Seroquel last night and I had nightmares of charred bodies, burned crispy like campfire marshmallows."