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Honoring Teenage Soldiers in Arlington

Aired May 26, 2007 - 16:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: This Memorial Day weekend we honor those who gave their lives in war. But what about those left behind? Who is taking care of them?
Everyone knows Arlington National Cemetery. But do you know section 60? It's reserved for teenagers who have fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan. We'll hear from their families.

And how much difference can one vehicle make? A special on the life of Warrior One.

Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, and you're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

First this hour, Iraq, and talk of a major troop reduction during the 2008 presidential campaign. It comes just as President Bush won a hard-fought battle with Congress over a war funding bill stripped of mandatory triggers for troop withdrawal.

The "New York Times" reports the Bush administration is mulling plans to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq from nearly 150,000 troops today to roughly 100,000 next year.

And the mission would shift from fighting insurgents to training Iraqi troops - something tried already, but without success. Mr. Bush is said to have spoken of a long-term commitment to Iraq along the lines of the U.S. presence in South Korea.

With more on the story, live from the White House, CNN's Elaine Quijano - Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WHITE HOUSE: And Fredricka, a senior Bush administration official I spoke to wouldn't confirm or deny the details laid out in that "New York Times" report, but said, look. It would make sense that certainly people are looking at all different kinds of scenarios right now.

Officials, though, here insist that it's still early yet. They say not all of the reinforcements are in place for that latest Iraq security strategy.

White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, saying that the troop increase is really meant to create the conditions that will eventually allow, they hope, U.S. forces to come home.

She says, quote, we, of course, would like to be in a position to bring down troop levels. But certain conditions, as assessed by senior military advisers and commanders on the ground, need to be met to warrant that.

Now, come September, President Bush himself has said he's going to be looking to the assessment of Lieutenant General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. That is what is going to be a major factor in deciding what course of action the president will take next.

But according to the "Times," General Petraeus was not in on these discussions, the specific discussions about that possible troop reduction plan in '08. That would seem to suggest, Fredricka, that this particular idea is not all that far along - Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Elaine, this taking place after the president signed that new funding, war funding bill for the soldiers. So, what's with the timing here?

QUIJANO: Yes, it's interesting. Of course, it was a quiet signing that took place, not a public ceremony, President Bush last night signing that bill at Camp David.

The president really low key, only issuing a written statement. But yesterday, after visiting with troops at National Naval Medical Center in suburban Washington, President Bush praised the bipartisan efforts that went into crafting the legislation.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This effort shows what can happen when people work together. We set a good bill that didn't have timetables or tell the military how to do its job, but also sent a clear signal to the Iraqis that there's expectations here in America.


QUIJANO: Now, the president yesterday met with about two dozen wounded military personnel. He awarded five Purple Hearts during his visit, said it was an honor to be their commander in chief.

And today, in his weekly radio address, the president, ahead of Memorial Day, paid tribute to America's servicemen and women, and he thanked those still serving today - Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Elaine Quijano at the White House. Thanks so much.

Meantime, the search for two missing U.S. soldiers in Iraq enters week three this weekend. Thousands of American troops are hunting for the missing soldiers south of Baghdad along the banks of the Euphrates River. Military officials say they've got 16 people in custody who were directly related to the attack.

Specialist Alex Jimenez and Private Byron Fouty were believed to have been captured in an ambush May 12th. Four other U.S. soldiers were found dead at the scene. The body of a third missing soldier was found earlier this week. Three more U.S. troops meantime are dead in Iraq. The military says an improvised bomb killed a soldier south of Baghdad in the area where the missing soldier search is taking place.

Small arms fire claimed another during an operation in Baghdad province. And a Marine was killed in a non-combat related incident in Anbar province.

During this Memorial Day weekend, the nation remembers the men and women of the U.S. military who died in the line of duty. Many of them are buried in Arlington National Cemetery in a special area called section 60.

Unlike the historic parts of Arlington, the graves in section 60 are fresh, as is the pain of the war.

Here's our Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT, ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY (voice-over): Arlington National Cemetery. This is section 60, where the orderly solitude gives way to pictures, mementos, teddy bears and toys - memories across the nearly 400 graves of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, a constant stream of people stopping to pay their respects.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most important, precious gift they could possibly give, and that is the life of their child.

STARR: Ray and Lisa Philippon have found community here at the grave of their 22-year-old son, Lawrence, killed on Mother's Day two years ago in Iraq.

LISA PHILIPPON, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: It's an unbearable pain. Unless you've lost a child, in our case, it's hard to understand the pain. And so, we come here.

STARR (on camera): Here at section 60, there is utter heartbreak and grief. But there also is great love from the buddies who stop by here to visit their friends who didn't make it home alive from the war, to the families, especially the moms and dads who come here to visit their children, many of whom died so very young.

STARR (voice-over): More than 250 teenaged U.S. troops, 18 and 19 years old, have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Terri and Richard Clifton's son, Chad, was killed by a mortar in Iraq.

TERRI CLIFTON, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: Chad was 19. The last day I saw him was the day after his 19th birthday.

STARR: Richard remembers a teenager who listened to music from another war while he was on patrol. RICHARD CLIFTON, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: This war didn't have its own soundtrack, and they kind of had to go back and adopt the soundtrack for Vietnam. And they listened to a lot of that retro music.

STARR: But this teenage Marine, like his buddies, wanted to serve. But he had an old man's sense of destiny.

Terri has compiled a book of Chad's e-mails and instant messages. His last letter home.

TERRI CLIFTON: "If you're reading this letter, it means I wasn't lucky this time. Everyone chooses their path, and mine has led me here.

"I just want you to know there's nothing I can write to express how sorry I am to have put this on you. I know you love me, and this will hurt you."

STARR: At section 60, the children walk, the parents grieve and buddies remember. And one more time, from another war, another generation pauses to say thank you.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Arlington National Cemetery.


WHITFIELD: Coming up, they protect our freedom. But what happens when they leave the service?

We look at who's caring for our warriors after they hang up their uniforms.

And on this Memorial Day weekend, a special look at Warrior One, the former CNN Hummer used in Iraq, and how proceeds from its sale are helping the war wounded.

You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tumors and other diseases can be difficult to detect. But Professor Guillermo Tearney has invented an endoscope that takes 3-D images inside the body.

GUILLERMO TEARNEY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PATHOLOGY: The high- def, 3-D miniature endoscope is a device that allows you to visualize inside the body using a probe that is about the size of a human hair. We think that it will replace many of the miniature endoscopes that are out there and allow physicians to image in areas of the body that they could not reach before.

For example, in the animal study that we did, we were able to image tumors that were embedded on the surface of the organs of the animals inside the animal. But we were able to pick up smaller ones that were slightly elevated above the surface that would have been very difficult to pick up with a two-dimensional image.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Within a year, Tearney and his team hope to utilize the endoscope in clinical trials on human patients.



WHITFIELD: American veterans are honoring their comrades this holiday weekend. And while the Rolling Thunder motorcycle group holds its 20th annual Run to the Wall tomorrow, one veteran is taking a totally different two-wheeled show of respect.

CNN's Brianna Keilar has that story.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT, SILVER SPRING, MARYLAND (voice-over): Bob Rodweller of Maryland is gearing up for the ride of his life.

KEILAR (on camera): You're starting in ...


KEILAR (voice-over): A 52-day journey on his bicycle from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic.

RODWELLER: We'll wind up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on July 25th.

KEILAR: It's a 3,836-mile joy ride for a worthy cause - veterans and their families.

Rodweller is trying to raise awareness and money for Fisher House, a foundation that provides housing for military families near military hospitals, allowing them to stay close to a wounded family member who is going through long-term treatment.

KEILAR (on camera): Why Fisher House? Why not another charity?

RODWELLER: Well, because Fisher House looks at the veteran and their family as a total unit. It's not just the veteran. It's the family that's also sacrificing and going through these hard times.

And they need to be there to help their spouses.

KEILAR (voice-over): It's a chance for Rodweller, a veteran himself, to return a few favors.

RODWELLER: When I came back from Vietnam, I had a lot of people help me readjust back to civilian life, and they were former veterans.

And so, I never forgot that. KEILAR: Rodweller is nearing his $15,000 fund-raising goal. And when he begins his journey next week, peddling his way across the United States, he'll tell people along the way about Fisher House and what the organization does for veterans' families.

RODWELLER: We need to really recognize and support their patriotism and their sacrifices for us.

KEILAR: Rodweller plans to do it one mile at a time.

Brianna Keilar, CNN, Silver Spring, Maryland.


WHITFIELD: Also this weekend, we honor those gave their lives in war. But what about those left behind?

Josh Levs has a reality check now.


WHITFIELD: It's difficult.

LEVS: It is. It's difficult. And you know a lot of these families are left in a very difficult situation, because not only are they grieving the loss of a loved one, but then on top of that, they're also having to deal with financial challenges and start paying the bills.

And so, we decided to look at survivor benefits this Memorial Day weekend, and here's what we found.

A couple of years ago, the amount of money that survivors get after someone dies in the war jumped tremendously. But it turns out that a lot of people who were unable to collect that money. And now, a lot of veterans' groups are saying that many survivors are not getting money that they're entitled to.


LEVS (voice-over): When troops give their lives for the country, the last thing families should have to worry about is money, say many lawmakers.

So, two years ago, Congress expanded the so-called "death gratuity" big time, from just over $12,000 to $100,000. They even made it retroactive to 2001.

BILL FRIST, FORMER SENATE REPUBLICAN MAJORITY LEADER: We owe them a debt of gratitude and we owe them even more than a debt of gratitude.

LEVS: But some troops have died not knowing their families wouldn't have access to that money.

Jaime Jaenke, a single mom, thought it would go to her mother, to raise her daughter. But by law, it can only go to a spouse or child. So, the money is in a trust her daughter cannot touch until she's 18.

SUSAN JAENKE, GRANDMOTHER: I have a daughter without a mother, and now we don't have a future.

LEVS: Some in Congress are trying to change that.

REP. TOM LATHAM, R-IOWA: It was just an oversight, I believe, in that they didn't take into consideration these types of situations.

LEVS: But so far, no luck.

Meanwhile, there's a battle over another benefit - annual payments. This one we need to draw out to explain.

Many survivors are eligible for money from the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration. Here's one example of how that could work.

This benefit is often about $13,000 a year for a widow. This benefit is about $12,000. But survivors don't get both. They get this one, and then enough from the Department of Defense to bring the total up to this - in this scenario, a total of $13,000.

Many veterans' groups are pushing for survivors to get both. It would cost the government billions.

The Pentagon has said there is no apparent need for it. The Defense Department says it does all it can to provide for families of troops who pay the ultimate price.


LEVS (on camera): And these days, there's actually another argument going on over benefits, and that is the National Guard.

You know, now in Iraq, tens of thousands of National Guard troops are there. So now, individual states are looking at the money that they pay survivors of those troops when they die, to see if that's enough.

And Fred, in some situations now, we're seeing controversies in individual states that could affect some upcoming state elections.

WHITFIELD: And there are other benefits. The tricky part is, not all the families know about it sometimes.

LEVS: Right. Yes, you know, that's a good thing to point out, because there are some Web sites out there that people can look at. You've got the Veterans Administration is a big one, and some private groups online.

There are a lot of - let me tell you about some of these benefits. There's life insurance, on top of what we were saying. That can be up to $400,000.

You've also got Social Security benefits and you've got home loans, sometimes even career assistance, for the remaining spouse who decides to go to work.

So, there are a lot of benefits. And the ones we focus on here, obviously, are the ones that are now caught in controversies involving the federal money.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And sometimes you don't get those benefits unless you know about them and you ask for them and you inquire. Sometimes it's just that difficult.

LEVS: You've got to fight for it sometimes, absolutely.

WHITFIELD: You really do.

LEVS: Yes, bureaucracy.

WHITFIELD: All right. Josh Levs, thanks so much.

LEVS: You bet. Thanks.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, coming up, it rolled through the deserts of Iraq. You know what I'm talking about, CNN's Warrior One.

Well, it is now touring the U.S. We'll go live to its latest stop and find out about the worthy cause that it's helping to support.

You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


WHITFIELD: This is turning out to be a deadly week and a deadly weekend for U.S. troops in Iraq.

We are just now learning that eight U.S. troops have died in separate incidents, five who have died today, two yesterday - no, two, rather, Wednesday and one yesterday - bringing the total of U.S. forces deaths, in May alone, to now 93.

Meantime, we are paying tribute to war veterans all weekend long. One way we're trying to make a contribution is by helping to raise money through our Warrior One Hummer, a vehicle that was used during the Iraq war, and it is now touring the country after having been purchased for a nice, sizable sum - much of that money going to the Fisher House, which helps family members of those who have been wounded in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan.

Traveling, or at least making one stop along with Warrior One, is our own Bonnie Schneider, who is right now able to join us - oh, and inside Warrior One. Good to see you. You're also going to give us a sneak peek of how this vehicle works.


Now, I can't say I drove it across the country, much to - I wish I could say I did. But, you know, it's really an amazing vehicle. And it's amazing to me, sitting inside it. I feel really fortunate. This vehicle has been literally transformed. It was actually in Iraq back in 2003, and came under heavy fire, to the point where it was totally broken down and literally had to be towed out of the area back to Kuwait.

I want to show you some of the illustrations on the vehicle, because they actually depict everything that happened to the CNN crew while they were in Iraq.

You're looking at an illustration that was done by an artist, kind of rendering what the Hummer looked like while it was in Iraq. And that's when it got the name Warrior One, incidentally, back in 2003.

You can see the vehicle heavily loaded with the equipment that the crew was using. And then off into the distance, into the desert, notice the smaller illustrations. Those are some of the tanks. And that's actually what the landscape looked like in Iraq.

And it's really amazing when you take a close look at this vehicle, to the transformation, because back in the summer of - of last summer, 2006 - it was completely overhauled by the show "TLC Overhaulin'." They did all this wonderful artwork. They refurbished the interior, as well, and really, it's incredible, the dramatic transformation.

Well, we are here at the Chagrin Valley J.C. Blossom Time Festival. And joining me now is Dave Fisher, who is one of the co- chairs of this event.

And Dave, you actually served in the military yourself. So, I'm wondering, does that personal connection - did that have anything to do with bringing this Hummer to this festival?

DAVE FISHER, CO-FOUNDER, FISHER HOUSE FOUNDATION: Absolutely. One of the things that, when given the opportunity to bring the vehicle to Chagrin Falls, it gave us a chance to show off and what the holiday is all about.

Some people forget that it's not just a three-day weekend and barbeques on Monday. It is about our fallen veterans who have served our country.

SCHNEIDER: You know, I've noticed that there's a lot of veterans here in this area that have been coming by and nodding as they look at this and taking a closer look.

Do you think it's been having a real impact on them?

FISHER: Absolutely. This has been the biggest impact I have seen in my seven years as a J.C. Everybody has commented how great it is that RE/MAX and CNN have brought this to here.

And then, just more publicity for the fact of why we are celebrating this holiday and do it this weekend.

SCHNEIDER: Dave, thank you so much.

FISHER: Thank you.

SCHNEIDER: Now, the Hummer is not just here in Ohio. It's actually touring the entire country. You may find it at an auto show, at an Air Force base throughout the year, through this RE/MAX Tour for the Troops.

It's raising money for the Sentinels of Freedom. That foundation provides scholarships for families of severely wounded war veterans, to help them transition back into regular life, including rehab, transportation, education. You name it, they really do provide it.

So, it's a wonderful cause and we're really happy to be here in Ohio. Back to you.

WHITFIELD: A great cause, and we're so glad that Warrior One is getting such great mileage, as well.


WHITFIELD: All right. Bonnie Schneider, thanks so much.

Well, this Memorial Day weekend, you can do this, as well - turn your frequent flyer miles into hero miles. Fisher House will use those miles to help transport servicemen and women wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, and their families, to treatment centers around the country.

Go to to find out how to donate your frequent flyer miles and to find out a list of the airlines that will actually match your contributions this weekend.

Coming up next, we dig a little deeper into the history of CNN's most famous vehicle, Warrior One, used to carry journalists in Iraq. Its new mission - supporting our returning veterans. More straight ahead.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR, CNN CENTER, ATLANTA: I want to show you something. This is what a typical Humvee looks like when it returns from service in the battlefield. In fact, let's take a look inside.

You go inside, you can see it's rusted, it's cramped. I mean, this is no luxury ride.

And the same things that you're seeing right here on the interior are also on display on the exterior. As a matter of fact, as you look at it from out here, you can see that this thing has been, well, beaten up.

We've got an amazing story of what happens when you clean up a pile of hardworking metal like this, one that could have been destined for essentially the scrap heap. Hello, again, everybody, I'm Rick Sanchez. And welcome to "Warrior One For All." This is the story of how one vehicle is making a difference in thousands of lives.

In the next half-hour, we're going to take you on the road with Warrior One, the other Hummer that served CNN so well in the Iraq war.

We bought it used from a Kuwaiti car dealership, enlisted it in our war coverage in 2003. After that, it was shipped back to the United States. Only later did Warrior One become a rolling emblem for the recovery of U.S. troops and a powerful tool for the Fisher House Foundation.