Monday, August 15, 2005

Lives Blown Apart

"Sema Olson was in the living room watching television when the phone rang. It was the Department of the Army calling. A voice asked if she'd heard from her son in the past 24 hours."

Ms. Olson tried to ward off the panic. "Is he still alive?" she asked.

After verifying her identity, the man on the phone assured her that her son, Bobby Rosendahl, who was stationed in Iraq, was still alive. But he'd been badly wounded.

With that Saturday night phone call, life as Ms. Olson had known it came to an end. Her family's long, long period of overwhelming sacrifice was under way.

Bobby Rosendahl, a 24-year-old Army corporal (and avid golfer) from Tacoma, Wash., was literally blown into the air last March 12 when an improvised explosive device detonated beneath his Stryker armored vehicle. He remembers landing on his back, with fuel spilling all around him and insurgents firing at him from the roof of a mosque.

Ms. Olson, during an interview in Washington, D.C., where Corporal Rosendahl is being treated at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, quietly cataloged her son's wounds:

"Both of his heels and ankles were crushed. He had a compound fracture of his femur in two places. Three-quarters of his kneecap was missing. His thigh was blown away. He had many, many open wounds, which all have closed except four right now."

She paused, sighed, then went on: "His left leg was amputated three weeks after he arrived here. He's not willing to give up his right leg. He's hoping to save it. All he wants to do is golf again. But we don't know. He's had 36 surgeries so far."

When you talk to close relatives of men and women who have been wounded in the war, it's impossible not to notice the strain that is always evident in their faces. Their immediate concern is with the wounded soldier or marine. But just behind that immediate concern, in most cases, is the frightening awareness that they have to try and rebuild a way of life that was also blown apart when their loved one was wounded.

Ms. Olson, who is 45 and divorced, gave up everything - her work, her rented townhouse, her car - and moved from Tacoma to a hotel on the grounds of Walter Reed to be with her son and assist in his recovery....

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