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Jonathan Bartlett on Alive Day Memories

Published September 20, 2007 in Television
By Fred Topel | Image property of respective holders.
HBO's documentary Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq gave Army Cpt. Jonathan Bartlett a chance to share his real feelings on the war. Wearing prosthetic legs, Bartlett often feels like nobody can understand what he is feeling. Interviewer James Gandolfini allowed him to open up.

Army Cpt. Jonathan Bartlett on Alive Day Memories

"When I wear my legs, I'm about six feet tall," said Bartlett. "So I walk in there and I got my cane and everything. He's a big man and that's kind of intimidating. So I walk up, shake hands, sit down. You're sitting there talking. I think he and I verbally dueled for about an hour. We didn't really talk about anything. We were just like fencing, which was a lot of fun. Then we got into all the things you get into. I've discovered, since I got injured, it's much, much easier to articulate to someone who is willing to listen and hear you and understand."

One would hope anybody would be sympathetic to a veteran, but that is not always the case. "There's a lot of people, when you try to talk about this stuff, it's not something they want to hear about. We're talking about the way I died, talking about the way my legs were torn off, talking about the way I almost lost my eye, talking about the way my dreams were shattered. The man I thought I was is still living in me and he's blown to crap. That's hard to articulate. We sat, we got comfortable and we just let it all out. That's very, very nice."

Bartlett came from a military family, with two sailor parents, but even their stories could not prepare him for the firsthand experience of war. "Everybody watched movies when they were kids about war and how cool it is, and you get to blow stuff up. It's like a video game. But you get there and you train. Even in training, you realize that hey, if I screw up, somebody will die and oftentimes it won't be the bad guy. So you have to wake up to the fact that your every choice has got someone's life in your hands. And when you get shot at, it's much easier to make the choice that it's the bad guy or me or my buddy. Oftentimes you don't think it's my life on the line, it's my buddy's life on the line. I didn't hit me as a shock. I wasn't knowing what to expect but I liked it. I liked the reality of it. You have to take responsibility."

Walter Reed Hospital got a lot of bad press, but Bartlett said that issue is a little more complicated than the media reported. "We were barracked in a hotel but it wasn't that bad. You have a bunch of soldiers who are sitting in wheelchairs, wheelchair bound in a narrow hall. The rooms aren't really designed for it. It was kind of annoying but we all found places to live in Iraq, places to make our own and be comfortable so it really wasn't that bad. The surgeons there are artists. The people who teach you how to walk again, they care. They're always there. The mess hall actually wasn't that bad, I must say. I've had far, far worse."

On the other hand, Bartlett was happy to share his direct feelings about President George W. Bush, which you won't hear in the film. "Bush has no idea what he's talking about when it comes to veterans. We're numbers to him. We are tools. He doesn't care. He has no idea. Okay? The film is about the pain and the struggle and all that we went through hand how we dealt with it and how we move on and how we're successful. We don't let it get us down because we died. We got extra lives. We're good. The movie isn't political at all. All the political stuff in the interview was taken out because it's not the point."

Alive Day Memories airs this month on HBO.

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Fred Topel
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