Mary Zielinski was an oddity in the Midwest: Half-Mexican, half-German, she had dark, frizzy hair, sharp features, and skin like autumn wheat. But her beauty hid a history of abuse. And when the man who had abused her as a child came back to Princeton, her mind began to unravel. A psychiatrist recommended she move somewhere warm and sunny before she snapped. She was in no state to take her children. "I was so sick I had to do something before I hurt myself," she says. "I told my kids that they could either visit me in Florida or visit my grave."

She screamed something at him about war crimes, her face so close to his that spittle flecked his face and uniform.

Rainy was still a toddler, but Nick was old enough to feel abandoned. The 11-year-old refused to even drive to Florida with his mother. He quit karate — the sport Mary had watched him perform — and took up soccer. And he grew closer to his stepdad, a veteran named Chuck Hopper with a kind face and an ever-present buzzcut. The older Nick grew, the more he talked to Hopper about joining the military. The idea seemed inevitable. For a boy in a flyover state like Illinois, the Army was the most realistic ticket to seeing the rest of the world.

Nick was particularly suited for the position, however. He was fiercely loyal to those closest to him — especially Rainy — and would go to any lengths to protect them. Once, a bully threw broken glass at his 6-year-old sister's face. "Nick went right up to that kid and punched him right in the face," Rainy remembers. "When he came home, all he said was: 'I took care of it.'"

When she was sick, he stayed up all night playing Uno with her. And whenever they flew to Florida to see their mother, he always boarded the plane first to make sure it was safe. When a stranger made fun of Rainy on a flight, 14-year-old Nick threatened to kick the grown man's ass.

He was like that at school too, at least on the rare occasions he attended. With his powerful sprints and prescription rec specs, Nick became the star striker for the Princeton High Tigers soccer team. But he couldn't care less for class. He would do a month's worth of homework in one night and then skip school for weeks at a time.

"It wasn't fast enough for him," Rainy remembers. "He needed in-your-face, manly competition. He needed six-mile runs. He was all boy."

Nick was a freshman in high school on September 11, 2001, when hijackers flew passenger planes into the World Trade Center. And he was just old enough to enlist when President George W. Bush announced the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. Nick watched as Baghdad burned on television. He saw troops topple statues of Saddam Hussein. And he wanted in. The only thing that kept him out of the Army was his girlfriend Anna, a whisper-thin woman with blue eyes and blond hair. She begged Nick not to go to war. So he lived with her after graduation, working at Wendy's or on occasional construction jobs, covering his pale skin with dark tribal tattoos, and wondering what to do with his life.

In the end, Anna would decide for him. She wanted a family. He wanted to fight. When she dumped him two years later, Nick was abandoned again. In Iraq, bouquets of flowers and "Mission Accomplished" banners had given way to bombs and shrapnel. So when an Army recruiter knocked on his father's door in Missouri, where Nick was staying after the breakup, the 20-year-old no longer had any reason not to enlist. His country needed him, the recruiter said. And Nick needed an out.

"The war isn't going well," Todd Cutter told his son. "You've got to ­understand that there's every likelihood that you'll end up in the Middle East."

Nick was counting on it. Soon he was knocking out pushups at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Six months later, he was patrolling the streets of Samarra atop an armored Humvee. Heavy metal blared from the speakers as the vehicle rattled past mosques, piles of trash, and kids playing soccer in the desert sand.

It was an alien world, strange and new and terrifying. Nick was now Specialist Cutter in the 232nd Engineer Company. Here, only one thing hinted at his past back in Princeton. A single word scrawled in black marker on his .50-caliber machine gun.

"Anna."


Dawn in Samarra was a sonic event. Before the sun began to bleach the eastern sky, the muezzin sang the call to morning prayer. "Allahu akbar," he always began. "God is greatest."

From atop the walls of Patrol Base Olson, Nicholas Cutter watched lights flick on inside cinder-block homes. One by one, Samarrans emerged onto the street, greeting one another on the way to the mosque. Then, suddenly, they all disappeared.

Nick rubbed his eyes. He had been up for 24 hours, keeping watch for platoon mates who were sick or injured. Was he seeing things? Samarra should be coming to life right about now. Instead, it was a ghost town.

"Hasten to worship," the muezzin sang. "Hasten to success."

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frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

..................... the existence of an industrial military complex is to enlarge the DADDY WARBUCKs scheme whereas a very few get wealthy and many get killed or wounded


CHENEY was given a $100,ooo,ooo bonus from HALIBURTON 


CHENEY was given seven deferments from the draft


CHENEY was given the best immediate medical attention on ALL of his heart conditions



for CHENEY it certainly was "mission accomplished"

Gina Rose
Gina Rose

This is a powerful story about how this VA crisis impacts us in south florida! I was on Capitol Hill last week asking our senators and congressmen in FL to call the VA and demand professional counselors be hired immediately. As a profession we have been kept out of the va yet academically we are just as prepared as the other mental health professions, and are the only ones who are specially trained in substance abuse also. Although it's too late to help here we can not allow this to continue! Call your legislative representatives, share your story, and demand changes be made!

tlaurent123
tlaurent123

be dammed nice if our politicians would protect our vets wether there in our service our out of service instead of useing them as a political  prop fund the VA instead of makeing excuses   you hear me republicons!!!!!!!  yes this means you,,,,,,,

smeeveo
smeeveo

Part 1 is very nicely written. I look forward to the next episode. BUT . . . there's more going on than the unfortunate death of one veteran at one VA hospital.  The VA is broken, but while the problem manifests at the street level, the cause and the fault is at the highest level,  particularly a Congress that underfunds, micromanages  programs over which it has insufficient information, and most especially  gets our young men and women into harm's way on false premises.  


Before Iraq the American public had no particular knowledge or interest in PTSD.  Only after abolishing the draft and creating a "professional" military has that syndrome come to everyone's attention.  We throw a lot of money, therapy and way too much drugs at the problem.


Consider how we handled WWI, WWII, Korea etc.  A drafted military stayed in uniform, in theatre, as long as it took to win the war.  My parents and especially my father-in-law served in WWII. My in-law was in Africa, Italy and elsewhere in Europe for 5+ years.  He experienced as much or more horror than the young man in this story.  He survived,  but never spoke of his in-combat experience.


My point is NOT to downgrade any current vet's experiences.  It is to bring a bit more perspective to what is going on now.  If  you really care about veterans,  you will elect a Congress that truly cares about our military personnel,  not making war contractors rich or cheap-siding the VA budget for caregivers of our broken soldiers.

Kantzler
Kantzler

The tragic story of Nick Cutter and other vets who have suffered neglect and loss on the VA front is not representative of the vast majority who benefit from the VA care they receive.  The reporting of uncovered incidents within the VA has gone too far in causing a negative reflection upon the total service the VA provides to tens of thousands of vets.  While incidents like Nick's and recent events concerning the scheduling manipulations by administrative personnel at some facilities point to problems that affect some aspects of managing the administration of care, the medical side of the coin is not the major factor in these incidents.

I am one among many, many vets who are thankful for the dedicated care that has been our experience at VA facilities, which comprise one of the largest medical-services networks in the world, one which, for the most part, has been effectively managed by the government.

I have received care at Miami's VA facility and at Cincinnati's VA Medical Center, where the combined efforts of the doctors, nurses and technicians have saved my life, examining, diagnosing, and successfully treating malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, fatal more than 60 percent of the time.  And I, as well as all other vets, continue to receive excellent and punctual follow-up treatment for this cancer.

It is a mistake to believe that any system as large and widely distributed as the VA health-care system will be free of errors or even abuses in some aspects of its operations, especially under circumstances where the consequences of wars were not a factor in the poor decisions of the Bush administration to engage in Iraq and focus there instead upon ending the defensive response in Afghanistan as quickly as possible, heaping upon the VA health system a responsibility, grown over ten long years, which they were not prepared to accept, but for which they have since largely risen to face.

But make no mistake, even in VA facilities where administrative abuses have been uncovered, there are hundreds of dedicated healthcare professionals, thousands system-wide, whose priority is to provide the best possible care to the veterans they serve, and there are many vets who, like myself, are thankful for the work they have done and will continue to do for us.

Luiz Felix
Luiz Felix

War is something to make a few richer than they are. Fcuk the one s fighting them.

Dereal Nostasio
Dereal Nostasio

The greed and the envy shows in their eyes long after the war was over. Now its time for us Americans to distance or selves from the ignorance of our own people with our heads held high and our souls full of true pride, but never the less humbled by what we have witnessed and thank God every day that we still have breath to share our stories with our children.

Susan Werb
Susan Werb

absolute proof war is a racket for private interests using nationalist propaganda to recruit idealistic, ignorant, desperate, aimless, lost, unquestioning or low-educated recruits with more machismo than enough intelligence to think for themselves

 
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