Nearly five years after being shot seven times in the deadliest military base attack in U.S. history, Alonzo Lunsford is still healing — and this Memorial Day will be no different.
A survivor of the Fort Hood massacre — and one of the Obama administration’s most vocal critics on veteran affairs — the retired U.S. Army staff sergeant will lead a ceremony on Monday in Walterboro, S.C., despite having never served on a foreign battlefield. In 2009, Lunsford was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, where he was one of 32 people wounded by Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan. The service is a reminder to Lunsford, 47, that he’s lucky to be alive, even if his everyday struggle continues.
“It’s part of my healing process,” Lunsford told FoxNews.com of the event. “People have shed blood, sweat and tears and made the highest sacrifices for this day. What saddens me most is I remember the day when I was in college and I withdrew to join the military and now, in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting, to see how our administration has treated us … it makes you angry. It’s beyond sad.”
Lunsford, who lost sight in his left eye and endured facial reconstruction surgery as a result of his injuries, retired from the military for medical reasons but said he’s still seeking combat-related health care since the massacre is classified as workplace violence instead of an act of terrorism. The 19-year Army vet also thinks Fort Hood victims should be awarded Purple Hearts for their heroism during the attack, a notion that passed by a vote of 325-98 this week in the U.S. House as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. But the married father of five is keenly aware that he’ll need to keep those concerns in check while recognizing the nation’s fallen heroes.
“When I look at the people’s faces in the crowd, and I when I look at those other vets who will be there, and how they were treated when they came back, what we’re going through now ain’t nothing compared to them,” Lunsford said. “It’s not about ‘the me’ any more, it’s about the ‘we.’”
With that in mind, Lunsford called on President Obama to sent Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to each of the more than 1,700 hospitals and clinics within the nation’s largest integrated health care system to truly get an accurate glimpse of treatment and rehabilitation services.
“The problem needs to be fixed,” Lunsford said of alleged improper practices at several VA hospitals. “Obama should have ordered [Shinseki] to go to every VA hospital in the United States unannounced and as soon as he walks in the door, look at their faces and ask himself if he’s doing the best job he can to help these men and women. And if not, he needs to step down.”
Lunsford said he’s seen the look of defeat and despair on one too many veterans during his visits across the country.
“You’d really be shocked at how some of these servicemembers are living,” he said. “It’s just sad.”
Walterboro Mayor Bill Young said he doesn’t know what to expect with Lunsford, a towering, outspoken presence at 6 feet 9 inches and nearly 300 pounds.
“Staff Sgt. Lunsford has become a pretty vocal advocate for veterans rights and veterans services and our program will honor those who served and those who died,” Young told FoxNews.com. “I don’t know what he’ll say. I’m sure he’ll talk about the sacrifices that veterans make here and abroad and the need to make sure that all veterans are taken care of and that the promises made to veterans by our country are honored.”
The issue of whether the 2009 mass shooting should be classified as a terrorist attack was reinvigorated this week when Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked FBI Director James Comey if he believed the attack was inspired by Al Qaeda.
"Yes, sir. Based on everything I've read," Comey reportedly responded during Wednesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. "Again, I wasn't in office at the time, but I've read about it since, and I do."
Hasan, who was found guilty and sentenced to death last August, said he committed the shooting to protect Taliban leaders in Afghanistan from American troops.
Lunsford, meanwhile, will be accompanied to Monday’s ceremony by his wife, Gherri, and son, Alonzo III. Spending time with his family and passing hours on the basketball court as a coach are some of the things guaranteed to put a smile on his face. He’s also considering a foray into politics, he announced to FoxNews.com, although that decision is far from finalized. For now, Lunsford will focus on the little, simple things, he said.
“When I get on the basketball court and I coach these kids, I don’t feel any pain,” said Lunsford, who does not want to be pitied or to be seen as a victim. “How would it look if I’m on TV, crying a river? On the flip side, yes, [Hasan] took some things away from me, but I cherish what I’m still able to do.”