- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

SALEM, Ore. — A soldier caught up in the same ambush as former POW Jessica Lynch was not killed in action but captured by Iraqi fighters and then executed, officials said.

“He was executed — shot twice in the back,” Maj. Arnold Strong, a National Guard spokesman, said in a telephone interview. “An Iraqi ambulance driver witnessed six Fedayeen rebels standing outside a building guarding him while he was still alive. That same witness evacuated his dead body to a hospital.”

The family of Sgt. Donald Walters, 33, of Salem — who had pressed officials for an investigation of their son’s death — learned the new information from the Oregon National Guard. Guard officials released the details to the public late Thursday, more than a year after the March 23, 2003, ambush.

The investigation said empty rifle magazines were found near where Sgt. Walters was captured, suggesting he fired until his ammunition ran out, a scenario resembling the inaccurate story circulated about Miss Lynch’s capture.

Sgt. Walters’ family and others have said that early reports depicting a blond soldier bravely fighting off Iraqis may have been mistakenly attributed to Miss Lynch, possibly because of an erroneous translation of Iraqi radio transmissions.

“Whether it was my son or any other one of those soldiers in the 507th, we needed to find out who it was that did this and give that person credit,” Arlene Walters told CBS’ “The Early Show” yesterday. “But it just so happened to be, I’m Donald’s mother. I thought it was him and I could fight for him.”

Before his capture, Sgt. Walters was shot in the leg and stabbed three times in the abdomen with a bayonet, Maj. Strong said, citing the report. It was not clear whether the bayonet wounds would have killed Sgt. Walters. He was held separately from the other soldiers, but was seen being led into the building and his body was brought out.

The killing is being investigated as a war crime, and suspects have been identified. Their names have not been released because the investigation is continuing, said Kay Fristad, a Guard spokeswoman.

“We still feel the pain of losing a son we loved dearly,” said Sgt. Walters’ father, Norman. “Now we know what happened. We are not relieved. We are extremely upset at what was done to him.”

In March, the Army posthumously awarded Sgt. Walters the Silver Star for gallantry with marked distinction. He also was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. This week, he was also awarded a POW medal.

The Pentagon investigated Sgt. Walters’ death after his mother, Arlene, filed Freedom of Information requests, believing the Army had not given her son credit for actions first attributed to Miss Lynch, such as fighting until his ammunition had run out.

An Army report released last summer on the ambush of the 507th Army Maintenance Company said that Sgt. Walters likely died in the fighting that left 10 other soldiers dead. The report said there were no American witnesses to his death.

Investigators, Maj. Strong said, “have a pool of suspects,” presumed to be members of the Fedayeen paramilitary force who captured Sgt. Walters. Pfc. Lynch and others were taken captive by different Iraqi forces. Pfc. Lynch was rescued from an Iraqi hospital April 1, 2003, while seven others captured in the ambush were freed 12 days later.

Defense investigators confirmed the account by matching Sgt. Walters’ DNA to blood spatter on the wall where he was executed, Maj. Strong said. He died from two gunshot wounds to the back, fired from more than 20 feet away, according to Maj. Strong’s account of the investigation findings.

Sgt. Walters’ fate drew attention because the details of his actions remarkably resemble a story circulated in the press, based on a story in The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, describing how Pfc. Lynch had fought until her ammunition ran out.

After her rescue, Pfc. Lynch, of Palestine, W.Va., said she did not fire a shot. Her injuries resulted from a Humvee crash during the firefight in the Iraqi town of Nasiriyah, just days into the war.

“What upset me was they admitted it wasn’t Jessica Lynch, but they never bothered to find out who that soldier was,” Mrs. Walters told reporters.

Col. Brit P. Mallow, a Defense Department war crimes investigator, met with Sgt. Walters’ family Tuesday in Salem. Col. Mallow notified Sgt. Walters’ widow, Stacy Walters, in Kansas City, Mo., on Monday.

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