- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

As she watched Pfc. Jessica Lynch’s emotional homecoming on television last week, Arlene Walters struggled to suppress her growing anger.

For millions of Americans, Pfc. Lynch’s first faltering steps in her hometown of Palestine, W.Va., were a moment of high emotion, a happy ending to one of the darkest incidents of the Iraq war.

For Mrs. Walters, however, the standing ovation and praise lavished on the young woman soldier, who was captured by Iraqi forces and later freed in a dramatic American raid, served only to highlight the contrasting treatment of her dead son, who fought in the same unit.

It was, fellow soldiers have told her, Sgt. Donald Walters who performed many of the heroics attributed to Pfc. Lynch by early news reports, and Sgt. Walters who was killed after mounting a lone stand against the Iraqis who ambushed their convoy of maintenance vehicles near Nasiriyah.

Yet few, if any, of the Americans watching Pfc. Lynch’s homecoming last week have even heard her son’s name.

“The military tell us that everyone who was in her unit was a hero,” Mrs. Walters told the Sunday Telegraph. “In fact they have singled out Jessica Lynch as the hero, and they are not giving the recognition to my son that he deserves.

“The fighter that they thought was Jessica Lynch was Donald. When he was found he had two stab wounds in the abdomen, and he’d been shot once in the right leg and twice in the back. And he’d emptied his rounds of ammunition. Just like they said Jessica had done at first.”

Sgt. Walters, a 33-year-old military cook from Oregon, had been serving with the ill-fated 507th Maintenance Unit, in which Pfc. Lynch was a supply clerk.

Two days after U.S. special operations forces rescued Pfc. Lynch from her hospital ward on April 1, an article in The Washington Post told how the female soldier had exhausted all her ammunition before capture, in an isolated and brave “fight to the death.”

The article suggested that it was only after a prolonged battle, in which she was shot and stabbed, that Pfc. Lynch was taken prisoner. In all, 11 soldiers were killed and six captured. It subsequently emerged, however, that Pfc. Lynch’s injuries were caused by her truck colliding with another vehicle as the convoy came under attack.

Last week, with no fanfare, the Army released a detailed report of the incident, which made it clear that a lone American fighter did, indeed, hold out against the Iraqis — but that the soldier was not Pfc. Lynch. It said that following the ambush, Sgt. Walters might have been left behind, hiding beside a disabled tractor-trailer, as Iraqi troops closed in. The report confirmed that he died of wounds identical to those first attributed to Pfc. Lynch.

“There is some information to suggest that a U.S. soldier, that could have been Walters, fought his way south of Highway 16 towards a canal and was killed in action. Sgt. Walters was in fact killed at some point during this portion of the attack. The circumstances of his death cannot be conclusively determined,” the report says.

Fellow soldiers who witnessed the ambush have been less guarded. “One told me that if I read reports about a brave female soldier fighting, those reports were actually about Don,” said Mrs. Walters.

“The information about what had happened had been taken by the military from intercepted Iraqi signals, and the gender had gotten mixed up. He was certain that the early reports had mixed up Jessica and Don.”

Mrs. Walters and her husband now are struggling to persuade the U.S. military to acknowledge fully their son’s bravery. Sgt Walters has been posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, but his relatives argue that higher honors are deserved. The Army says the investigation into the incident is now closed.

“I just can’t imagine him being left out there in the desert alone,” said Mrs. Walters, who is still haunted by images of her son’s lone stand.

“I’m not trying to take anything away from Jessica. We just want Don to get the credit he is entitled to for his bravery.”

She has her own theories about the Army’s reluctance to give him due credit.

“Perhaps the Army don’t want to admit to the fact that he was left behind in the desert to fight alone,” she said. “It isn’t a good news story.”

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