Wounded In Fallujah

<B>David Martin</B> Reports On The Families Of Injured Marines

The battle for Fallujah is now at its peak, and the close quarters of urban combat are taking their toll on Americans killed and wounded.

But even before this full-scale battle started, U.S. troops were suffering casualties there. Wards at the military hospitals just outside Washington, D.C., have been filling up with Marines wounded in Fallujah -- nearly 2,000 since April.

Their grievous wounds have shattered not only the bodies of young men, but also the lives of their families. But, as Correspondent David Martin reports, you will also see their pain has been eased by the kindness of strangers.

Cargo planes full of wounded land at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C., several times a week. If a Marine makes it this far, he is almost certainly going to survive. But he is also likely to spend weeks, even months, in military hospitals recovering from his injuries.

"When I hit the ground, I was purely convinced that my entire body was just ravaged, and I mean that I was, that I was dead," says Joe Dan Worley, a battlefield medic who was rushing to the aid of a wounded Marine when he took five bullets in one leg, and lost the other to a roadside bomb.

He says he knew it was bad: "I couldn't blink. I couldn't move anything. I knew that I had a choice of whether I wanted to lay there and go home, because that's what it felt like. That's what I wanted to do."

But if he had decided to stay there, he says he would have bled to death. Pinned down in a fierce firefight, Worley saved his own life by tying a tourniquet. But that's only part of the story.

"Our life is just, it's just turned upside down," says Worley's mother, Colleen. "You've got this beautiful little baby, and all she knows now, all she knows is that daddies live in hospital beds and wheelchairs …This is our life, and this, you know, this is the way every day goes for us."

Colleen, Worley's wife, Angel, and 3-month-old baby Abigail, who was born while he was in Iraq, flew from their home in Alabama to Bethesda Naval Hospital. They have been at his side since Sept. 22.

"It was every other day he was having surgery. And it was just a situation that you, I couldn't leave, and I wouldn't have," says Colleen.

It was a situation they couldn't leave, but it was also a situation they couldn't afford.

"When we first got here, the financial end of it was what I was concerned about. I remember me and Angel having a discussion about, she said, 'Well, I've saved up a little bit of money.' And I said, 'Well, I've got some money saved up,'" says Colleen. "And then when we found out how much hotel rooms were and everything. I said, 'You know, I think we might survive three weeks here.'"

Laws passed by Congress determine exactly how much financial assistance the family of a wounded soldier or Marine can receive. The government will pay the airfare for two close relatives to make one round trip to and from the hospital plus about $250 a day for hotels and food. But in most cases, that doesn't begin to cover a family's expenses.

"It takes a lot, it really does," says Don Webb. "A lotta money."

Don and Valle Webb's son, Corey, had his left leg crushed when his Humvee collided with a tank in Fallujah. While doctors fought to save his leg, the Webbs caught the next fight to Washington.

"It was just a huge relief to have my family there, a shoulder to cry on," says Corey Webb. "You always want your mom there with you when you're in pain. It doesn't matter if you're a 22-year-old Marine or not. You get hurt. You want your mama there. Your dad, too."

Don Webb commuted between Washington and his job in Alabama. Corey's sister and niece flew in whenever they could. But his mother stayed with him for eight weeks, as doctors amputated his leg and he learned to walk again.

"I started crying in the prosthetic room and they said, 'Are you OK,'" recalls Valle Webb. "I said 'No.' It just brings back memories of his, the first time he walked as a baby."

She's now seen him take his first step twice – at 11 months and then when he was 22, almost 23.

To do that, she had to take a leave of absence from her job – and her paycheck. "My salary pays the mortgage and his truck payment. And he does the rest," says Valle Webb.

For the Worley family, it was even more basic. The Washington weather was turning chilly and they had only summer clothes for the baby. But they didn't have to ask for help.

"There is an angel that just walked in the door," recalls Colleen. "She just sat down and started talking to all of us and she just wrote out a check and handed it to the kids. …And after she left, I said, 'Is this a loan?' And she said, 'No, No.'"

Rene Bardorf is one of several Marine Corps wives who saw that the financial aid provided by the government wasn't enough. She started handing out money as fast as they could raise it.

So far, the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund has handed out $300,000 to 200 families.

"Most of it has come from individual donors that have sent small checks to our fund," says Bardorf. "We operate week to week based on the funds that we have, and the amazing thing about what we're doing is that we pray every week that we'll be able to assist more families. And we go to the mailbox, and every week there's more checks."

She still remembers the family she helped. "The parents cried when I gave it to them, because they said, 'Thank God that I can stay a little bit longer, because we have bills to pay at home and we're factory workers and we can't afford to just stay here for months on end without some kind of help. You just bought us more time with our son,'" says Bardorf.

And it was the same with the Webb's mortgage payment. "It has been a humbling experience, because we never thought we'd be in this position – that we'd be taking money from people," says Valle Webb, who adds that she never thought she was going to have to depend on the kindness of others. "But when the mortgage payment starts coming in, and you don't have a check, you change your mind."

While technicians try to fit Worley with his new leg, he is outfitting himself with and a new way of thinking about the future.

"I worry all the time about being able to take care of my family now," says Worley. "But I tell you what, the present I know is being taken care of. We're cradled in people's hands right now."