AJC cartoonist Mike Luckovich joined a USO Tour last week to visit our troops in the Persian Gulf with other renowned cartoonists, including Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, Rick Kirkman of Baby Blues and Jeff Keane of Family Circus. Check out their work and Mike’s in the links below:
First stop: Ramstein Air Force Base outside Frankfurt, Germany. The American wounded here are fresh off the battlefield.
Ryan from New Orleans, a 20-something unit commander, suffered multiple shrapnel wounds in his thigh and leg when a suicide bomber blew himself up nearby; two of Ryan’s troops were killed in the blast.
The three or four pieces of shrapnel they took out of Ryan are ugly and gnarled and surprisingly large — probably an inch and a half in diameter — and I find it hard to comprehend that they pulled these out of his body. I know how big the pieces are because Ryan keeps them in a plastic cup next to his bed.
Later we visit Eric from Mesa, Ariz.
He was shot through the chest, destroying one lung and severely damaging the other. He is on a ventilator, and sedated, and his mom is there in the room with him. She hands me a photo of Eric’s little sister, and I draw the sister.
We were to fly out of Ramstein that night aboard a C-17 military transport that would take us to Kandahar, Afghanistan. They scheduled and rescheduled our departure three times.
So the six of us were in good spirits as the bus finally took us from terminal to aircraft, talking and joking and eager to take the long trip ahead of us. It was after midnight, and the giant air base was quiet. Then I saw the cart pass by the bus. It was like a luggage cart you see at the airport — a man driving a small tug that was pulling a trailer behind it. On the trailer sat a single coffin, an American flag stretched across it.
Now it is 3 a.m. in Kandahar, and I can’t sleep. I’m thinking about that coffin, and about all the servicemen and women I’ve had the honor to meet and to draw during the week just past.
At every stop — in Kandahar, at the forward operating bases to which we traveled by Blackhawk helicopter — the troops thanked us for visiting. Many had done multiple tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
A USO volunteer said several soldiers have told her that, as the war has dragged on, they worry that they’ve been forgotten by their country. But we cartoonists are here to let them know that America won’t ever forget them.
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