By Sgt. Sara Wood
The award-winning creator of the Doonesbury cartoon strip visited the Pentagon today to meet with wounded servicemembers and sign copies of his second book in a series chronicling the recovery of a wounded Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran.
Garry Trudeau wrote the book, "The War Within: One More Step at a Time," as a follow-up to his book, "The Long Road Home: One Step at a Time," which tells the story of comic strip character "B.D.," a National Guardsman who lost his leg during the battle of Fallujah in Iraq and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The second book follows B.D.'s return to civilian and family life after leaving the hospital and his process of dealing with his post-traumatic stress disorder.
Trudeau said he's putting together these books, which are really a compilation of his comic strips, as a way to bring the war home to Americans, many of whom may not know any servicemembers or understand the sacrifices they're making.
"America in general has not been asked to sacrifice much for this particular war," Trudeau said. "Their world has nothing to do with the military world. I think it's important, if you're given a platform that I've been given, to try to bring those two worlds together and say, �Look, these guys are making some pretty heavy sacrifices and contributions in our name, and we should know a little bit more about them.'"
Trudeau was encouraged to publish the books by the Fisher House Foundation, to which he is donating all the proceeds from these books. The foundation operates 34 Fisher Houses in the U.S. and Germany on the grounds of military and veterans hospitals. The houses give family members a place to live and be close to loved ones while they are hospitalized for an injury, illness or disease.
Trudeau has met many servicemembers over the years and has recently spent a lot of time talking with military doctors, therapists, and veterans counselors to make his depiction of the recovery process as accurate as possible, he said. His regular comic strips are very satirical and political, he said, so working on this project has forced him to use a different mindset.
"It's been quite an experience for me to work on this sort of naturalistic level and to try to understand," he said. "There's not much hyperbole in this; this pretty closely tracks what a soldier would actually go through. I try not to exaggerate, and it's important our countrymen understand some of the sacrifices that returning warriors are going through."
Trudeau's account of B.D.'s recovery is very accurate, according to the servicemembers who have read it and know firsthand what the experiences are like. Army Spc. Maxwell D. Ramsey, a left-leg amputee recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said Trudeau did a good job using real-life events wounded troops face and identifying the issues they deal with. He noted a section in the first book in which B.D. gets frustrated with the constant expressions of gratitude from strangers, saying that is something he can relate to in his own life.
"I'm one that was using humor to deflect and deflate the situation before I even got to Walter Reed to some degree, so seeing it manifested in a comic like this is, for me, appropriate and relieving in a way," he said. "I hope that others will take some measure from that. Anybody that's not feeling sorry for themselves will find the humor in this and giggle about it."
Using humor to tackle such a sensitive subject was a challenge, Trudeau said, but humor is often an indispensable coping mechanism for people going through challenges like wounded troops go through. "Humor can sometimes be that thin membrane between you and madness that you need to create some perspective on your situation and move forward," he said.
Trudeau said he received a lot of positive feedback about the first book, and that helped shape this book. He said he doesn't know yet how far B.D.'s story will go, but he hopes to see him recover enough to eventually be a peer counselor for newly returning wounded veterans.
Army Spc. David Lease, another wounded servicemember Trudeau met with today, said the books are important because they bring to light the experiences of wounded troops and letting them know people care.
"This is letting us know that they support us," Lease said. "They might not support the fact that we're over there, but they support us."
As part of his attempt to inform Americans about the sacrifices servicemembers are making, Trudeau is launching a military blog on his Web site: www.doonesbury.com, he said. The blog, which launches Oct. 8, will be called "The sandbox" and will feature entries from servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's important that people understand," he said. "I think the wars are just too remote for people's minds. They see two, three minutes on the evening news, maybe, if they don't look away. And people just get on with their lives. I understand that; there's just so much stress that you want in your life. But at the same time, there's a lot of people over there fighting in our name, so I think we need to pay attention to what they're doing."
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