Bury my heart in America

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Thanksgiving celebrations have special significance to Americans. For one day in November family, food, faith, and football bring us together in a spirit of gratitude unlike anywhere else in the world. Americans thankfully remember God had a hand in the hearts of those who first ventured to our eastern shores seeking simple freedoms we now take for granted.

My ancestry goes back to the Mayflower pilgrims and the earliest settlers of the colonies where freedom to worship was as important to being American as any other freedom Americans have come to enjoy.

It doesn’t take ancestry to have heartfelt dreams of freedom, or to belong to the exceptional American experience as my family has benefited from for four centuries. Consider the story of a tired American soldier and an Iraqi with a dream: to have his heart buried in America.

Platoon Sergeant Grant L. Pratt III, of the 1st Cavalry Division, supervised 23 other medics in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Baghdad. This letter home was sent September 11, 2007.

Dear family,

I wanted to take this opportunity to let everyone know of an experience I had here that really affected me.

I have wondered over the last seven months of my deployment if this war can be won militarily, or if there is any hope that this country can embrace a democratic government. In my eyes the people seem more intent on themselves and their contempt for other each other than [on] making things work here.

With the things I have seen, experiences, and watching friends die, I kind of believe that our endeavor here is pointless. I did not believe that there was a single Iraqi in this country that really cared if the violence stopped or that there were any that did not want to kill every American they see. Then I had something happen that gave me some hope.

About a month ago an Iraqi came to my aid station; he is one of the Iraqis that works with us as an interpreter. His name is Sam and he is 20 years old. He came to my aid station with a severely broken and lacerated finger after it was shut in the 300-pound door of an armored vehicle. I spent about two hours cleaning his finger and suturing it, all the while making small talk. He continually told me how he wanted to come to America and join our Army so he could come back and do more for Iraq. He told me of how he loved Americans and that all he wants is to become one.

I listened and talked with him until I was finished with my procedure and wished him well, and in my mind dismissed most of what he said as just words and never thought much else of it.

On September 9th it came across the radio that an explosion had hit one of our vehicles and we had one soldier killed, two wounded, as well as the interpreter that was with them. I put my gear on and went with the squadron commander to the hospital to check on our injured men.

It was quite a gruesome sight. First I saw my medic, who had minor wounds, then went to the young man who had served as the gunner. He had received blast wounds to the leg, which had torn away a majority of his outer thigh. I then went to view the body of our fallen brother who died due to a head injury. We helped console the other members of the platoon, as this was the second soldier they had lost in five days. Overwhelmed by the experience, we walked in to see the interpreter, which turned out to be Sam.

Sam had suffered severe lacerations to the head, resulting in over 40 sutures and staples. He had a small skull fracture and a small brain hemorrhage. Despite his severe injuries he would only ask how the others were doing. He was covered in blood and in extreme pain and just wanted to be sure that the soldiers he had been with were okay.

Once satisfied they would be taken care of, he took my commanders hand and said, “If I die, please take my heart to America and bury it there.”

We assured him his injuries were not mortal and left him in the care of the doctors at the hospital and told him we would be back the next day to see him.

The next morning I received a call from the hospital telling me that Sam was going to be released to an Iraqi hospital, but that he did not want to go. He feared that because of his ethnic background that he would be denied treatment and sent away. I told them I would call back in a few minutes and that we would come and get him and continue his care at my aid station. After 20 minutes of talking to the commander and making arrangements, I called the hospital and told them we would be there shortly to pick him up when they informed me that they had already released him, and had given him money to get to the Iraqi hospital. Needless to say, we were a little upset.

We began searching the area around the hospital and could not locate Sam. We were worried that he would fall into the wrong hands as any Iraqi that works with the Americans are often killed because they are aiding the enemy.

Three hours later we got a call from the gate to our base that Sam was there. He had walked from the hospital to our base, about seven miles in flip-flops and pajamas, despite fairly significant injuries. My medics brought him to the aid station and as we laid him on the bed I looked at him and said, “You are a pretty tough guy.” He grabbed my hand and looked me in the eyes and said, “I knew if I got here you would take care of me, Sergeant.”

Tears filled the corner of my eyes and I replied, “You bet I will.” He then said, “I had to get back here for two reasons. First, the memorial service for Johnson (the soldier we had lost a few days prior) is tonight and I cannot miss that. We also have an important mission tomorrow and they need me.” I informed him he would make it to the service, but would not be going on patrol anytime soon. He argued for a short time then agreed that it would be in his best interest to relax for a couple of weeks before going outside the wire, but still insisted his guys (the U.S. soldiers from his platoon) needed him.

Later that night I sat two rows behind Sam as we paid tribute to our fallen brother and watched as he mourned and cried with the rest of us. I realized he is as committed as the rest of us and is considered a brother to us.

I just got done rechecking his wounds and talking with him. He still insists on going back out with his guys because they need him. He talked about his dreams of living in California some day. I have to say I admire this guy. He displays courage like no other Iraqi I have seen and in some ways made me think again of my views.

Despite what you see and hear on the news, there are Iraqis like Sam that are dedicated to seeing their country succeed. There may not be many, but some sacrifice alongside us with a simple dream of their country being better off, or like Sam of being an American citizen. It gives me some hope that things will eventually work out here, and that someday Sam will be an American citizen, because he has earned that right. — Grant

Gratitude: Gratitude is a noble quality requiring humility. Many citizens show it. Soldiers possess it. Sam carried it in his heart.

For all those who want to be like Europeans, or whose self-loathing causes them to detest their own country, consider Sam, a young man whose greatest aspiration is to become an American, at whatever cost, even if it means only his heart may someday be part of its soil.

James Michael Pratt is a New York Times bestselling novelist and non-fiction author, CEO of PowerThink Publishing, public speaker, Op Ed writer for The Daily Caller, and Founder of Reagan Revolution 2. His creative work may be reviewed at www.jmpratt.com. Email: james@powerthink.com.