BookBrowse Reviews Blood Brothers by Michael Weisskopf

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Blood Brothers

Among the Soldiers of Ward 57

by Michael Weisskopf

Blood Brothers by Michael Weisskopf X
Blood Brothers by Michael Weisskopf
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2006, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2007, 336 pages

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A powerful account of eighteen months in the lives of three soldiers and a journalist, all patients in Ward 57

This is a hard-hitting, down to earth piece of reporting by Time correspondent Weisskopf who, in one swift moment, moved from reporting on the story, to becoming the story. He had returned to Iraq to report for Time Magazine's 2003 Person of the Year feature (The American Soldier), but he found himself shipping home sooner than expected with 26 other wounded ("enough men for a platoon") on the regular casualty airlift - which leaves Monday, Wednesday and Saturday nights - some of whom were destined for Ward 57, the specialist ward for male amputees at the military's Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington; and, thanks to some high level dealing, Weisskopf joined them, becoming the first civilian to be treated on the ward.

If you're looking for a gung-ho story of military heroism, or a polemic on the Iraqi War, Blood Brothers is not for you - it is not a political book and while there are heroes aplenty in its pages, Blood Brothers focuses on what happens to the soldiers who return from the front a fraction of their former selves, and how they, and their families, learn to live with horrific and life altering injuries long after the media, and most likely the military, has lost interest in them.

Weisskopf cannot help but be part of the story but this is more a work of reporting than a memoir - certainly we learn a lot about Weisskopf's own injuries and path to recovery, but he is more interested in telling us about the others - the young men and the wives, mothers and children who support them.

I strongly recommend this book to a wide range of readers, including many older teenagers. Our then13-year-old son came away noticeably shaken from reading it. Like many his age, he's fascinated by military strategy; and, at the time he read Blood Brothers was working on a large report about World War I for his 8th grade history project. I gave him Blood Brothers to read after listening to him glibly reel off the casualty figures of one battle versus another, as if they were baseball scores. His interest in the facts and figures of military history has not waned but it now comes with a degree of circumspection that was not apparent before!

In a recent interview Weisskopf wrote:

"I wrote this book because I lived the life of a war casualty. This is a war of the wounded we are now engaged in. For every death, eight of our troops come home with serious injuries, twice the rate of Vietnam (due to improvements in body armor which leave the torso protected but the limbs exposed) . The U.S. is fighting a faraway war, conducted by a volunteer army, an easy thing for most Americans to overlook. I realize that war has an ugly face. It's different to wake up to it every morning at a place like Ward 57, where I lived for nearly a month and continued to visit on a near-daily basis for 18 months. I wrote this book to serve as a voice for the battle after the war that thousands of American troops face at places like the amputee alley of Walter Reed."

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in November 2006, and has been updated for the October 2007 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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