Operation Thriller USO Tour, Day No. 1

The USO's OPERATION THRILLER has now begun. In the USO's 69-year history, this is the first time the organization has sent authors to visit military personnel in a combat zone. Five members of the International Thriller Writers are participating: Steve Berry, Andy Harp, David Morrell, Douglas Preston and James Rollins. For the next week, each member will send a daily blog from the tour, starting with David Morrell writing about the crew's visit to military hospitals in the Washington, D.C., area. Day 2, Day 3 , and Day 4 are now available.

On Saturday, we were given the honor of spending time with wounded military personnel at the National Navy Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. If there are any doubters about the quality of America's youth, they need only to walk the halls of Bethesda and Walter Reed to be inspired by the courage and commitment of our combat veterans.

In an emotional six hours we visited with more than thirty of the wounded. Most were injured by IED explosions. Many were amputees, some with both legs missing. Almost all wanted to tell their vivid stories, as if they couldn't believe what had happened, fulfilling a need to chase away the nightmare.

One Navy corpsman's narrative was especially vivid -- how his unit came under attack and he took shelter behind a wall, only to notice an IED planted on the other side. As he moved away from the bomb, someone stepped on a second device, detonating it. The corpsman was thrown 15 feet backward, landing in muddy water in a ditch. His next memory was of looking upward through the water and of feeling an amazing peace. Suddenly that peace was shattered as a member of hisunit yanked him from the water. "Check my femoral! Check my carotid!" he yelled, reaching into his medical kit to find a pressure bandage for a massive hole in his leg.

His story about the amazing peace he initially felt was told with frantic agitation, a stark contrast. Meanwhile his mother looked on with love and sorrow. In every room we encountered similar heartbreaking looks from parents, wives, sisters, girl friends, many of whom had traveled long distances to live near the hospital or in the rooms where the wounded are being treated. They knew without a moment's hesitation the date on which the casualty occurred.

A wife told us that she and her husband would be going home in two and a half years. We assumed that she had made a mistake and meant two and a half months, but when questioned, she corrected us. "No, two and a half years. We won't be going home until 2013." Yet every wounded man wanted to rejoin his unit, even though many of them would be lucky to walk again. Moving from room to room, hearing their stories, hugging their loved one, we writers of invented action were humbled by meeting warriors who had lived the real thing, examples of heroism far beyond anything we could imagine.

God bless them all.

More reports to come.