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Iraq vet struggles as civilian

CROWN POINT Four years after his Humvee was blown up by a roadside bomb and receiving the Purple Heart, Roy Harper still lives the nightmare of the Iraq War and the reality of poverty in America. Joining the Army a year after graduating from Crown Point Central High School in 1993, Harper enjoyed his three-year tour in Germany and two years in Alaska. When his service time was up, he returned to Crown Point and joined the National Guard. His unit from Vergennes, Vt., was called up for a tour of duty in Iraq and Harper made preparation for his journey. I arrived for training at Fort Dix, N.J., where we spent about three weeks, learning about the country and the mission that was expected of us, said Harper. Harper said what they learned there was completely different than what they saw when they arrived. The country was dusty and dry, said Harper. There were children all around that waved to us. Harper said the roads were mostly paved everywhere he went and the Army made sure they had plenty of water on hand. It was nothing to the natives of the country to tolerate 130 degree heat, stated Harper. It took some time to learn to function in that heat. Harper had planned to go home for the birth of his daughter on April 28, 2004, but the plan kept getting pushed back. I thought of her when I saw the children, said Harper. It seemed a tradition to Harper that the women performed the manual labor in the fields while the men drove the tractors and equipment. The children would work with their mothers, helping where they could. Harper noted the children would often bring goods to the markets for sale in baskets on the backs of donkeys or in carts being pulled. Harper remembered the old vintage Chevy Caprice classics that most people had. They were rusted and in bad shape but lots of people had them, mused Harper. Harper was wounded during a long trip back to the base in Scania in a convoy of 75 oil tankers and Humvees. The Humvees travel in groups of three, stated Harper. There are three in the front, three in the middle and three at the end of the convoys. I dont remember much about it, said Harper. I just remember a loud explosion and then nothing else until I woke up in Germany. I just know the medic that was in our unit did an excellent job of saving my life. Harper asked for a phone when he woke up at Landstuhl Army Hospital near Landstuhl, Germany, to call his parents and his wife in the states to let them know he was OK. I remember being in a lot of pain, said Harper. I didnt know the extent of my injuries then either. Harper spent two days in Germany and then was flown to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC. There were doctors and nurses on the flight and they kept me comfortable, said Harper. I think I may have slept most of the way. Harpers injuries were serious and shrapnel was removed from his hands and his neck. They had to remove shrapnel from a nerve in my neck that is attached to my aorta,said Harper. When Harper arrived at Walter Reed Medical Center, the first procedure they did was to remove two tubes from his chest, tubes which drained fluid from his lungs. While Harper was at the hospital, he was presented with the Purple Heart at a special ceremony where other soldiers were presented medals as well. Harpers injuries have kept him diligent about his surgery dates. With hand surgeries at Walter Reed Medical Center, West Point and the Veterans Hospital in Albany, Harper has seen improvement. I had a hole in my ear drum from the blast, said Harper. It has been repaired but my hearing has been affected. I still have shrapnel in my pinky. It doesnt bother too much, until it gets cold and then it hurts. But then, lots of things hurt, said Harper. I shut off the television at night because they only tell the bad parts of the news in Iraq. They forget to tell of the good the troops are doing there, about the children that we give school supplies to, how we help them to get back on their feet. Harper said he doesnt think the United States should be in Iraq. We shouldnt be over there, insisted Harper. In my unit, several died. My sergeant died in the humvee that I was in and had to be moved off me so I could be taken out of the humvee. Harper now struggles to deal with his injuries and life as a civilian. The war changes a person, Harper stated. It changed me. I came back and had one disappointment after another, he continued. Im now fighting for the custody of my daughter. Finding a job was difficult for Harper in a community with high unemployment rate. I was a mechanic in the Army and I had hoped to land a good job in that field, but it didnt happen, Harper added. Harper took a job working at Wal-Mart, stocking shelves on the graveyard shift. Ive had trouble keeping warm this winter, Harper said in frustration. With the price of oil going up, everything going up, I just dont have enough money to go around. Harper supplements his heat with a kitchen gas stove for added warmth. The porch has separated from the mobile home, a childs play kitchen awaits a little girl on the weekends as Harper stands by a spruce sapling, tugging on the branches. I supplement our groceries by hunting in the fall, smiled Harper. My family likes venison so I was able to kill a couple deer for the table this year. Thats helped a lot. Harper was recently presented with a check for $500 recently from Ticonderoga American Legion Post 1403. Post Commander Edward Tyrrell presented the check which originated from a grant through the Coalition to Salute Americas Heroes. Post 1403 is honored to deliver this gift to our comrade here in Crown Point, Tyrrell said. We can never fully heal all the trauma of war, but we can show our gratitude to those who went in harms way for America.

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