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A Commander's Compassion; Riding Shotgun on IED Alley
Aired November 11, 2009 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Afghanistan, Pakistan and U.S. interests in both are once again the subjects of a high-level meeting at the White House. Later this hour, President Obama convenes his war cabinet for the eighth time, and we understand four main options are on the table. One is an increase of roughly 34,000 U.S. troops, a mix of Army brigades and Marines. You may recall the U.S. commander in Afghanistan wants 40,000 more troops. The other options differ in number and types of forces.
So, what's holding up a decision? Reportedly, the president wants to be sure a beefed-up American force won't slow down the creation of a capable Afghan force. The White House is also said to be leery of the newly re-elected president, Hamid Karzai, and suspicions remain as to Pakistan's commitment to fight Taliban militants on its side of the border.
As head of the U.S. Central Command, Four-Star General David Petraeus oversees wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And he'll be a force in whatever the president decides. But Petraeus is not just a military strategist, not just a commander.
I want you to see the humanity in a leader who lives his commitment to his troops. And because of that commitment, one soldier lives today.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): This may look like your average sunrise stretch, but these two men are anything but average. You see, the soldier on the right wasn't even supposed to be alive this Veterans Day, but he is. And he thanks this man.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: This is a fine looking bunch of soldiers right here.
PHILLIPS: From the battlefields, to the bases, to even the White House, General David Petraeus has the ears of many powerful people. But it was the ear of First Lieutenant Brian Brennan that one word fell upon in a quiet room at Walter Reed Medical Center that would shatter the silence of a near-fallen soldier.
This is Brian Brennan a year and a half ago, on a breathing tube, clinging to life. A roadside bomb took the then-23-year-old's legs in Iraq, and 44 pounds of explosives left him with a brain injury.
Brian's father told CBS News he refused to give up on his son.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know how tough he is. And if there's anybody in this world that could do it, he was the one.
PHILLIPS: And it was General Petraeus who was about to do something no family member or doctor could doing, something that makes this average sunrise stretch nothing short of a miraculous leap.
PHILLIPS: Well, I think when you hear their story, you'll not only believe in miracles, but you'll believe in brotherhood forever.
General David Petraeus joins us now live from the White House. And First Lieutenant Brian Brennan is live from Tampa, where he is now based.
Gentlemen, great to see you both.
PETRAEUS: Great to be with you, Kyra. Thanks.
FIRST LT. BRIAN BRENNAN, U.S. ARMY: Great to be here, ma'am.
PHILLIPS: Well, it's a pleasure.
Brian, I want to start with you. If you don't mind, will you take us back to that day and tell us what happened when that roadside bomb went off?
BRENNAN: That day, we were currently -- we had a human terrain team that I was in charge of providing security for, and their job was to give us some background, some feedback from the local population in order of how we could improve the area around there to prevent attacks on us. And we were going to a village elder meeting so they can get an assessment, and we hit an IED that day.
PHILLIPS: Do you remember anything from that moment?
BRENNAN: I remember the whole day before, and then I remember the trip -- I remember the trip to the village elder meeting, but I do not remember the actual explosion.
PHILLIPS: Do you remember afterwards, when you came to, when you first realized, oh, my God, something has gone horribly wrong? Or is everything to this point a blank?
BRENNAN: Well, it was here and there. I was understanding things and knowing what was going on here and there.
They did have to tell every day when I first woke up that I lost my legs and why I was in the hospital. They did for a while. But General Petraeus gave me a call on the Fourth of July. That was the first memory that I actually had.
I remember talking to him there. I don't remember what we talked about, but I do remember talking to him.
PHILLIPS: Well, you know what? It just gets better. And we don't want to give away the icing on the cake just yet.
But General Petraeus, why did you call him? And then, why did you follow up and go see him?
PETRAEUS: Well, I was just checking on him. As you'll recall, I saw him back in the hospital. He was really just there comatose. His eyes were open, he was seeing absolutely nothing, and I really didn't see a happy ending to this story in any respect, Kyra.
But as you know, the sergeant major and I, before we left, just decided to leave by saying the motto of the regiment, the 506 Regiment, the band of brothers. That motto is Currahee. And when we said that, it seemed to really just spark the life back into him. His stumps moved up and down on the bed, his head was moving all over, and it was obviously a very moving moment.
And I told my aide as we left that day from Walter Reed -- that was several months before the 40th of July -- that I wanted to check on him periodically. And so we would call. First, we would only get his father, and ultimately, months later, his dad actually put Brian on the phone. And that was a pretty remarkable occurrence as well.
PHILLIPS: Now, here's what maybe a lot of people are wondering -- what did he just say? What exactly just happened? And I just want to back up for a minute.
Because, Brian, doctors couldn't get through to you, your family couldn't get through to you. Like the general said, he thought you weren't going to make it. Everybody thought you weren't going to make it. And people had been trying to communicate with you every single day, right, and you weren't hearing anything?
BRENNAN: No, ma'am, I wasn't hearing much of anything. I think, in my opinion, I have a very strong love for the military, I have a really strong love for my country and the people that I served with, and my soldiers. And they were still in Afghanistan and I wasn't there.
I was in the hospital. I was actually in a coma, so I couldn't be there with them. And the Currahee motto, that brought it right straight home, especially coming from General Petraeus.
PHILLIPS: And that's what's interesting, is, General, you were there whispering other things in his ear. What else were you saying to him before you said that one motto?
PETRAEUS: Well, we said a number of things to him, "Air Assault Lieutenant, we need you back, your troopers need you. Be strong for them," and all the rest.
Candidly, these are phrases that you try in other tough situations, and it wasn't until just before we lefted, I just mentioned "Currahee." My sergeant major thought he saw a flicker of something, and so we decided to shout "Currahee" on the count of three. We did that, and that's what really seemed almost to wake him up from this comatose state in which he was. PHILLIPS: And Currahee means stand alone, correct?
PETRAEUS: It does. And if you'll remember the "Band of Brothers" movie and so forth, that's the regiment and that's the motto of that great regiment.
So, Brian, do you remember that moment at all? Do you remember the general shouting that in your ear?
BRENNAN: No, ma'am, I do not. I wish I did, but I don't. My closest memory was in July of that year.
PHILLIPS: Well, I understand your family flipped out. What did they say when you were finally able to communicate?
BRENNAN: They told me the story, because obviously I didn't know. I was awake, but every day I had to figure out why I was there, why I was in therapy and all that stuff. So they just filled me in on the details.
PHILLIPS: And there you were, all of a sudden wide-eyed and bushy- tailed.
And General, you know, Brian has really inspired you in ways that -- in a number of new ways, hasn't he, that you haven't really felt previously?
PETRAEUS: Well, I think he inspires everyone with whom he has contact. This is an officer, a great American, a wonderful human being who sees opportunities where everyone else sees obstacles.
He's just an inspiration to all of us. And truthfully, there was no way I ever would have in my wildest of dreams predicted that we would be able to do what we did yesterday, or that we would have even have progressed to the point where I could talk to him on the telephone.
You have to remember, he not only had lost both legs, he had a useless left arm, but he also suffered from traumatic brain injury in a very substantial way as well. So this is a truly nearly miraculous recovery that he has demonstrated.
PHILLIPS: Which leads me to another point.
You know, Brian, the general is famous for his pushups, and I was looking at the video of the two of you running and stretching and working out together. And I saw the picture of you leading in the pushups. Please tell me that you schooled the general.
BRENNAN: That's a little hard to do. I'm not going to lie.
POSER: I'm still sore, Kyra. Still hurting from yesterday.
PHILLIPS: I bet you are.
Come on, Brian. You gave it to him.
BRENNAN: I tried my best, but I wish I could have ran a little bit more.
PHILLIPS: Well, you did an incredible job.
And Brian, I want you to stay with me, because I do have one more question for you, because I know the general inspired you to start a foundation, and I want to mention that. And I'm also going to get you to weigh in on one more thing with the general.
But General, as we wrap up, you know, in just less than 10 minutes you're going to end this interview on this Veterans Day and you're going to turn around -- here we are, a country at war, a war that soldiers like Brian sacrificed so much for. You're going to head into the White House for the eighth meeting with the war council.
You know, we all want to know, how many more of our men and women are going to head overseas to fight, and is that what we need?
PETRAEUS: Well, our job -- and General McChrystal will be there video teleconference, Admiral Mullen will be there as well -- our job is to provide our best professional military advice on how to accomplish the very important mission that the president and the country have set out for us.
There's been a lot of discussion about the additional resourcing and how that might enable that mission. We will discuss that again today. I think that we are indeed nearing a decision on this very important topic, and I think it's very, very essential that we recall why it is that we are in Afghanistan, and that is to ensure that that country does not once again become a sanctuary or safe haven for al Qaeda and the kind of transnational extremists that carried out the 9/11 attacks.
PHILLIPS: And I know this war is extremely important to you. You had a lot invested in this fight for a long time. And now we're coming up on the president's eighth meeting.
A lot of your commanders under you are frustrated. They want to see action, they want to see more troops. Various strategies have been leaked to all of us here in the media to put pressure on the president to do something.
Do you think this process has just taken too long?
PETRAEUS: Actually, I think the process has been very productive and very useful. I think there's been a degree of discussion and debate, indeed, that has been excellent. There has been a refinement of objectives, there's been discussion of various courses of action, there have been explanations and discussions about how the civilian component of this will complement what is done by the work of our military troops. All in all, I think this has been a very productive couple of months that we have spent on this. PHILLIPS: Will General Stanley McChrystal get what he needs, Sir?
PETRAEUS: Well, that's up to the president, obviously. And again, our job is to provide him our best professional military advice. And that's what we are determined to do, we will do. We owe that to our country and to our troopers, especially those like Brian who have sacrificed so much for our country.
PHILLIPS: Back to Brian.
And I want to bring you on this. This is the final question here, on a bit of a lighter side. And I know you're going to want to weigh in on this, Brian.
You know, Bob Dole and other Republicans have suggested, General Petraeus, that you would be a pretty outstanding presidential candidate for 2012. Is that door open, or do you want to close it right now, here in the CNN NEWSROOM?
PETRAEUS: I'll close it right here, right now in the CNN NEWSROOM. I will remind you of the great country song that used to ask, "What about 'no' don't you understand?"
PHILLIPS: Brian, you want to add your two cents?
BRENNAN: That's above my pay grade, ma'am.
PETRAEUS: Good answer, Brian.
PHILLIPS: Brian knows where his paycheck is coming from, and it's from the man who brought him back to life right there.
I'll tell you what, General David Petreaus, I have tremendous respect for you. You know that.
Brian Brennan, when I read about your story it brought tears to my eyes. What an honor and a pleasure to have both of you on.
General, good luck at that meeting. We'll be following it closely, as you know.
Brian, stay strong. We need you.
BRENNAN: Thank you, ma'am.
PETRAEUS: Thanks, Kyra. Air assault.
PHILLIPS: All right. Currahee.
Well, six days on, Fort Hood survivors are telling their stories now, like the guy who threw a table at the gunman. Wait until you hear this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
PHILLIPS: Ever wonder what it's like going on patrol in Taliban country? U.S. troops do it every day in Afghanistan. "Dangerous," "frightening," those words doesn't do it justice.
Our Chris Lawrence found out first hand, hitching a ride with GIs on a road known as IED Alley.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We cram ourselves into the back of a Humvee and roll out onto Highway 1. They call this road IED Alley.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I can show you the world.
LAWRENCE: And, yes, there's a story behind this silly song.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): ... shining, shimmering, splendid.
Remember what happened when you didn't sing it last time?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
LAWRENCE: There's also an argument over who's the hottest Disney character.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an ongoing debate. I -- there's a lot of votes for Jasmine apparently, but I'm an Ariel man myself.
LAWRENCE: For the heck of it, I throw in a vote for Pocahontas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God.
LAWRENCE: Soldiers know militants like to hide bombs in the irrigation canals, so the convoy stops a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, let's go.
LAWRENCE: We're only in this Humvee because two weeks ago, a bomb exploded and damaged an MRAP. It happened right on this road, but some of the soldiers still get sick of the slow pace.
STAFF SGT. ANDREW JENNINGS, U.S. ARMY: I can get out and try and search every culvert. It would take five days to get anywhere, and possibly get blown up myself outside of my truck, or maybe just go across and get blown up in the truck.
LAWRENCE: Out of Kandahar, we roll into a pretty remote desert. Dust everywhere, and the ride just keeps getting rougher.
JENNINGS: We try not to follow the roads in these narrow places like where we're going right now, which is, you know, where they want to put them.
LAWRENCE: The conversation is all over the place. One minute, bombs. The next, breakfast.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some more Pop-Tarts. You're talking about eating healthy?
LAWRENCE: But as we finally get near the camp, there is one thing I still can't figure.
JENNINGS: The whole Aladdin song that we sing every time?
LAWRENCE (on camera): Yes.
JENNINGS: It started out last deployment, and we didn't hit one IED in 15 months. But, stopped singing it this time and already hit one. So, we're bringing it back.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): Reason enough to keep singing.
JENNINGS (singing): Shining, shivering....
PETRAEUS: Chris joins us now from the Afghan capital of Kabul.
That ride must have been pretty nerve-racking despite the songs, right, Chris?
LAWRENCE: Yes, exactly, Kyra. You know, the thing about driving and riding with some of these soldiers is they don't know if that bomb is two feet in front of them, two miles down the road. They don't know if it's going to hit in two weeks two months.
There's this constant just tension and pressure. I don't even think those words really do it justice. But as you can see, when you're trapped in that metal box for hours on end, the dust is pouring into the vehicle, you can't get out, you can't roll the windows down, you have to break up some of that tension. And you can see the bond, the easy way those guys just kind of talk among each other to keep it as loose as they can.
PHILLIPS: So, Veterans Day, although you're in Kabul Afghanistan, how are the troops remembering today? What is the morale like? What are they telling you?
LAWRENCE: Yes, we just came from a big ceremony over at Camp Eggers here in Kabul. You know, lots of the ISAF forces, not only the United States, but it was interesting, because, like, each country would get out and kind of say what Remembrance Day or Armistice Day or Veterans Day, whatever they call it in that country, what it meant to them and what their soldiers had given over their years.
And we talked to a couple of the troops afterwards, and they said that being here in a war zone, it made Veterans Day even more important to them. Not that they don't think about it when they're back home, but they said being here and being so locked in on an actual mission, and seeing all those other nations around them fighting at the same time, it really had a big effect on them. And you could look around as they played the "The Star-Spangled Banner," as the National Anthem was sung. You could just look in people's eyes and tell how serious everything was and how much Veterans Day really meant to them this year.
PHILLIPS: Chris Lawrence, we miss you. Come home soon. Appreciate it.
Top stories now.
The husband of retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor has died. John O'Connor lost his decades-long battle with Alzheimer's Disease this morning at the age of 79.
If you're holding your breath on health care reform, better exhale. President Obama wanted a final by year's end, but more Democrats on Capitol Hill concede that's looking more unlikely by the day.
New details in the death of German soccer star Robert Enke. The 32- year-old goalie of Germany's national team was struck and killed by a train last night. Enke's widow, bolstering police suspicions of suicide, saying he left a note and had been battling depression. The couple lost their 2-year-old daughter to a heart condition three years ago and had recently adopted another baby.
It's a detour some drivers weren't planning on. The power of nature up close and personal.
PHILLIPS: All right. We heard just a short time ago from Fort Hood. Fifteen of the men and women wounded in last week's shootings are making "great progress," including the civilian police officer who put four bullets into that suspect. The Army's also pushing forward on the mental health of survivors on post, people like Army Specialist Logan Burnette, telling his story today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPEC. LOGAN BURNETTE, FORT HOOD SHOOTING VICTIM: We heard the shooter continue to move to the opposite side of the building as he continued to fire. Very, very quick re-loader on that weapon. He was very swift, very tactical with what he was doing.
As he moved, me and two other soldiers in the cubical -- I wish I could remember their names -- decided it was time for us to get out of that building. So we grabbed each other. They helped me up to my feet because I couldn't move.
I started to run. As I started to run, I fell again, not realizing I couldn't use my left leg from where the bullet entered my hip at.
Made it about halfway to the front door. At the front door, I fell again. And at this point, I was, you know, grabbing all straws. I stood myself up again, threw all my body weight -- and as a big guy that's a lot -- towards that door as hard and as fast as possible. Once I hit that front door, I began to low-crawl about five meters up a hill, just, you know, pushing my body forward with everything I had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPEC. GARY COLE, FORT HOOD COMBAT STRESS CONTROL: Oh, of course I think there are going to be fears and worries within anything. You know, if there's a shooting at home, and now you're going into a combat zone -- however, this is our job and, you know, sometimes you've just got to push through and continue. And with time, it will heal your wounds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: Army Major Nidal Hasan is also recovering from gunshot wounds and likely helping prepare his defense. He will face military justice and could face the death penalty. His lawyers suggesting it will be tough to get a fair trial at Fort Hood, especially given President Obama's emotional and very public appearance at yesterday's memorial service.
It may be the hardest decision a president has to make, sending American troops off to war. President Obama still trying to decide.
We're going to hear from a general who has his ear.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: It's one of President Obama's most pressing questions: what to do about Afghanistan? Send more troops? How many?
Well, he's in the White House Situation Room talking about it today with his national security team. All the major players are there, including General Stanley McChrystal, top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his boss, General David Petraeus.
We heard from General Petraeus at the top of the show and here's what he's saying about troop levels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Our job is to provide our best professional military advice on how to accomplish the very important mission that the president and the country has set out us for us. There's been a lot of discussion about the additional resourcing and how that might enable that mission. We will discuss that again today.
I think that we are indeed nearing a decision on this very important topic, and I think it's very, very essential that we recall why it is that we are in Afghanistan, and that is to ensure that that country does not once again become a sanctuary or a safe haven for al Qaeda and the kind of transnational extremists that carried out the 9/11 attacks.
PHILLIPS: And I know this war is extremely important to you. You've had a lot invested in this fight for a long time. And now, we're coming up on the president's eighth meeting. A lot of your commanders under you are frustrated. They want to see action, they want to see more troops, various strategies have been leaked to all of us here in the media to put pressure on the president to do something.
Do you think this process has just taken too long?
PETRAEUS: Actually, I think the process has been very productive and very useful. I think there's been a degree of discussion and debate, indeed, that has been excellent. There's been a refinement of objectives. There's been discussions of various courses of action. There had been explanations and discussions about how the civilian component of this will complement what is done by the work of our military troops. All in all, I think this has been a very productive couple of months that we have spent on this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: So, who do you think the president should listen to when he decides whether to send more troops to Afghanistan? By a narrow margin, people questioned in a new CNN/Opinion Research Poll say that he should listen to his generals. The rest say he should take other matters into account, too. Overall, support for the war itself is still sagging, a majority, 58 percent say they oppose it; 40 percent support it.
Another fallen American soldier has been recovered from the Afghan battlefield. Military divers pulled the body of Specialist Benjamin Sherman from a river in western Afghanistan. He and another soldier disappeared last week as they tried to recover supplies.
The Pentagon hasn't identified the two. But Sherman's family confirmed his identity. The 21-year-old is from Plymouth, Massachusetts. His wife is expecting their first child next March. Sherman was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Amid all the ceremony of Veterans Day, more evidence that we need to make every day Veterans Day. A new study out of Harvard Medical School finds more than 2,000 veterans under age 65 died last year because they didn't have health insurance and couldn't get care. That's six preventable deaths every day and more than 14 times the U.S. troop's death in Afghanistan in 2008.
The researchers found almost 1.5 million vets age 18 to 65 were uninsured last year.
Now, a staggering figure on active duty troops and brain trauma -- the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center says that in the past two years, more than 70,000 U.S. troops have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury; 20,000 this year alone. For months, we have been trying to get the head of the V.A. to talk to us about other pressuring issues with veterans' care, like the V.A. hospitals that might have exposed thousands of veterans to HIV and Hepatitis because they were careless with colonoscopy equipment. And the one near Philly where vets treated for prostate cancer got too much radiation.
Finally, Secretary Eric Shinseki talked about these problems and assured veterans that V.A. hospitals are safe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC SHINSEKI, VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: The brachytherapy which you referred to occurred in one hospital. We discovered it, we put the corrective actions in place, and then we made known to the general public what had happened because transparency is one of our first priorities.
In the case of endoscopies, we discovered that in a V.A.-wide inspection. It occurred in three hospitals. We had failures in leadership in those hospitals and we have taken proper action here and ensure that veterans have high quality and they do have a high quality of health care available to them and that -- and that it is safe as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: But hold on, what about veterans who don't live near a V.A. hospital and can't get to one covered?
Elaine Quijano shows how some veterans have the V.A. coming to them.
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in West Virginia, thousands of veterans live just out of reach of the V.A. health care system. But now, with this high tech mobile clinic, the V.A. is bringing health care to them.
(voice-over): On any given week, lumbering along West Virginia's rural roads...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every day is different.
QUIJANO: ... a mobile health clinic run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs rolls out to serve some of the state's far-flung 182,000 veterans.
It's mostly veterans themselves who staff this clinic on wheels.
(on camera): What are we looking at here?
DR. SIDNEY JACKSON, MOBILE HEALTH CLINIC: Well, this is one of the clinical examination rooms for the mobile health clinic.
QUIJANO (voice-over): Like Dr. Sidney Jackson who says his fellow vets don't often seek the health care they've earned. And when he asked?
JACKSON: Why didn't you come to the V.A. system? "Well, if I don't need it, I don't want to take it from somebody, because other people that need it more than me."
QUIJANO: Changing that mindset is one challenge, another is simple geography. On this day, the clinic sets up in Ravenswood, West Virginia, an hour and 45-minute drive from the nearest V.A. hospital.
JACKSON: Hey, Chris, can you run an EKG?
JACKSON: I'm just going to get it. You got a little irregularity in your heartbeat.
QUIJANO: A checkup of 87-year-old Bill Barton uncovers a worrying combination, a morning dizzy spill, high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat.
JACKSON: Hold very still for me.
QUIJANO: Aided by the clinic's modern technology, including an EKG machine and access to Barton's computerized records, Dr. Jackson prescribes medication. It's a rare event for the World War II veteran who enrolled in the V.A. system only two years ago.
(on camera): Why didn't you go earlier?
BILL BARTON, WWII VETERAN: Well, I never had any problems earlier. I'm the type of fella, if it's not broke, don't fix it.
JACKSON: What's your last name, sir?
JACK PATTON, WAR VETERAN: P-A-T-T-O-N.
QUIJANO (voice-over): Korean War vet Jack Patton is taking care of paper work when he stumbles upon the clinic.
PATTON: And they asked me if I wanted to talk to the doctor and I said yes. You know, it's not very often you get to talk to him free.
QUIJANO: In his case, everything appears normal. He leaves grateful and with some peace of mind.
PATTON: A lot of us can't get out, you know, and the closer we can get to facilities, the better.
QUIJANO (on camera): Right now, the V.A. has three similar programs in Maine, Wyoming and Washington state. The goal: to increase the number of veterans enrolled in the V,A. system and ensure funding for the program continues.
PHILLIPS: Elite, rigorous and nonstop -- the duties of sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknown. Twenty-one steps turn, 21 steps turn, over and over, 24/7, 365.
We'll join the men and women on duty.
PHILLIPS: Top stories now.
An alleged hero hoax in California. Steven Burton (ph) was photographed several times wearing Navy medals. The trouble is, he never served in the military. And that's a federal crime. It turns out, Burton is a banker. A Navy commander tipped off investigators. She was attending her high school reunion where she said Burton was on full display.
Police in Cleveland, Ohio, searching the home next to murder suspect Anthony Sowell's now. They're calling it a precaution. Investigators found 11 bodies at Sowell's home. He's also charged in an alleged attack that led to the search. Sowell is a registered sex offender.
A United Airlines pilot gets his wings clipped in London. British police stopped him from flying out of Heathrow this week, saying that he was drunk. The pilot who allegedly failed a breath test was supposed to fly to Chicago. He's now removed from service as United investigates.
On a hill overlooking Washington, a symbol of sacrifice by the untold number of anonymous troops who died for this country. President Obama is laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery this morning. He and the first lady then visited a section where the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. Those conflicts almost certainly won't be represented at the Tomb of the Unknowns, thanks to DNA.
Service members from World War I, World War II and Korea rest for eternity there. Remains of the Vietnam unknown were identified and exhumed in 1998.
Even now, though the tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year only members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry between 5'10" and 6'4", by the way, are eligible to be sentinels. More on this archive piece now from Veterans Day 2007.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, NOVEMBER 11, 2007)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything we do here is for the unknowns. So when we go out there and guard them, it's not about the public, it's not about the visitors, it's all about our job, our mission here for them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Present arms!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do it for families who don't know where their loved ones ended up, don't know what happened to them. And for all they know, it could be their brother or sister in those groups (ph). UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your whole life evolves around this. It's a mentality. It's a lifestyle. It can take anywhere between six months to 14 months to complete training before you can earn a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier identification badge. A lot of soldiers, they don't actually realize how much they have to sacrifice in order to make it through this training. On a day-to-day basis, it can take anywhere between four to 10 hours everyday to get your uniforms squared away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have fellows that tailored their underwear so there wouldn't be a bulge in their uniform when they -- or a wrinkle in their uniform when they went out there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To get shoes good enough to go outside takes about 20 to 40 hours. But to repair on a day-to-day basis can only take about six.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: The seasons can be very hard on a guy. The winter can be brutal. I had incidents where I had icicles from my ears, icepack on my head, hands soaking, and I am just freezing and every time you hit that riffle it was painful.
JIM CARDAMON, TOMB GUARD, 1957-1958: There was a huge north storm in Washington, D.C. and the civilian guards had to work to keep the mat clear and the classic clear so we could change the guard because you keep doing it 24 hours a day regardless of the weather.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: And then you have the heat, the heat would get to you in a way that, it would just literally weaken you physically and emotionally.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: It's really the greatest honor a soldier can have being here and honoring those people who have given everything, they didn't only give their lives, they live their identity. They work sometimes, 24 hours. The time off, it's not just sleeping, eating and then hanging out. We're fixing any deficiencies that you had the previous workday. And no one can really achieve true perfection, but personally and professionally we try to achieve that as best we can. And going out there knowing we put our best foot forward to honor the men and women who gave themselves for this country is pretty awesome.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Renowned and respected for their language skills, but sworn to secrecy for decades. The last of the Navajo code talkers finally speaking out about their mission and their legacy. Canes in hand or rolling along a wheelchairs, 13 of the World War 2 marines taking part in New York Veterans Day parade today of the 400 or so Navajo trained as code talkers, fewer than 50 are still with us, their unit helped the u.s. to victory over Fujima (ph) and all over the Pacific Theater. Japanese never could crack those Navajo codes.
As far as those scopes, this one takes the cake, unfortunately it also takes the house, bank goof, you're not going to believe. Owners still can't believe it either.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PHILLIPS: Remnants of tropical storm Ida still soaking parts of the Southeast, Chad right?
CHAD MYERS, METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely, Kyra, all the way from now, the Piedmont in North Carolina, back to upstate in South Carolina. That's where most of the rain fell over night right through here and in fact I'll just get this out of the way, you can see some numbers, Columbus, Georgia almost six inches of rain, Atlanta almost five, and then this is what it did. Here is the mud slide up in Tennessee. This is now near Ducktown. There was a camera crew taking a picture of a small mud slide and all of a sudden that fell down while they were standing there. Crews say they'll have that road ready to go in a week. I don't want to be the first car on it, do you?
PHILLIPS: No, I don't want to get on that road. Are you kidding me? We can't get enough with that video, that's something we don't usually see. Yes, pretty incredible.
MYERS: I'm glad that crew was100 feet back.
PHILLIPS: Yes, no kidding, how long do you think it will take to clean all that up?
MYERS: Oh, they say they have to blow those boulders up, it's so big, so it will be a couple of days, for sure
PHILLIPS: All right. We'll follow up.
PHILLIPS: Thanks Chad.
Call the bank to redo your mortgage cheque. Pay the bank on time, cheque. Get out in five days, your foreclosed? Wait a minute. What happened? That's right an Arizona family said that they did everything they were supposed to do but the bank still kicked them to the curb. And get this it was a mistake. So, we're calling out the bank and demanding that they have to fix this what it screwed up. Sarah Badison (ph) from our affiliate KPO (ph) has the outrage.
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JEFF ZERNER, HOMEOWNER: Everything's pictures right and tv?
ZERNER: You work so hard, you know. You put a lot of money down on the house. And here's a picture of you we took in Bali, remember. You pay your taxes. You pay your mortgage, you work hard and it's all stolen from you.
Reporter (voice-over): Jeff and Yanti Zerner did everything right.
ZERNER: We're stating the pack up everything now because I don't know if somebody is going to come in here, sees the property and discard us.
Reporter: But their plan to save their home still went very wrong. ZERNER: I get this notice and it says that you have five days to vacate the property and so I call up the number and I say who are you? And they say we're the legal owners of this house, so it went up for foreclosure.
Reporter: Chase Bank foreclosed on their home if know the couple was up-to-date on their modified mortgage payments.
ZERNER: We paid Chase several thousand dollars which they accepted in good faith. I feel ripped off. I feel extremely ripped off.
Reporter: Chase officials refused to go on camera but admit they made a mistake. They apologize for the confusion and have reached out to the Zerner's to discuss where it goes from here.
ZERNER: OK. That's it for now, I think.
Reporter: Home may be where your heart is, but after sinking all his cash into this house, Jeff says this is where he'll fight to stay.
ZERNER: If in the end, that we lose this house, it's just a house, but we would like to do whatever we can first.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: Amazing, and what a great attitude. Chase admitted its foreclosure peeps and its mortgage modification peeps weren't communicating with each other and that's why the Zener's are packing boxes. We sure hope the bank has the right thing and get some of their house box quickly. Rick Sanchez, back there working hard, Rick, what did you got?
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: I got two things. First of all, frankly I'm a little sick and tired and I think most Americans are of these guys in Washington who are essentially lining their pockets with money special interests an I do this thing now that we're doing on a regular basis, it's called follow the money. To found out who is taking the money from whom and why. And we're breaking out on TV and show people what's going with that and we will going to have a segment on that today, which is pretty interesting because today it's mostly the guys on the left who are taking the money, not the guys on the right. By the way, they're both guilty all the time. And then there's this. What I seem to see out there is a lot of people suddenly are becoming citizen's journalists, they took with them cameras and they go out and they shoot things. Sometimes they shoot breaking news, that's good. Sometimes they catch people doing bad things, but sometimes they're more of a pain in the -- just taunting, shall I say. Look at this piece of video right here. In fact, I'm going to watch and listen to a little bit as well.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You're putting that camera in many cases, I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll take that camera and whip your (bleep).
(END VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: OK
PHILLIPS: Hey, I wouldn't want somebody getting up in my face with a camera either.
SANCHEZ: That's too insane, I mean it's a city worker, he's arguing as to whether he's being lazy or not doing his job, but you know, there are the guys who have the right to get on his face with a camera? I mean, he is really a police. There's a lot of question here. And you know, maybe it's time we talk a good look at this. We got a couple of examples that I will be showing our viewers. The video's fantastic. I mean you got to see it. It's really something.
PHILLIPS: Sounds good.
SANCHEZ: So there's a taste.
PHILLIPS: Thank you, rick.
SANCHEZ: Thank you, Kyra.
PHILLIPS: All right.
It's a day for saluting American troops, past and present. The cnn i- report page features 17 vets in their stories today. A really great look at the diversity and strength of our armed forces, we lift them all up today.
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These are the days of America all together in the promised land, wheels in Detroit keep on turning blue collar lesson there for the learning ...
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PHILLIPS: Well, we have looked at lots of different angles for this veteran's day. But we also wanted to hear from you, we ask for your messages, the U.S. troops has in present and Amiral Porky says, "No army in history was expected to be messengers of war and peace at the same time. Infinite thanks and admiration. I wish wars could end tomorrow, but that's just a dream. Great idea from Mmahoney22, "Use this web site to thank military people today, www.letsaythanks.com. And from Veritaz, "I'm a care giver for a Pearl Harbor survivor, Whidbey Isle is home to a Navy Base and I've been saying thank you all day. And one more time. Thank you. Happy Veteran's day everybody. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Rick Sanchez picks it up from here.