The Tragic Story of Green Beret James Alford

This is a partial transcript from The O'Reilly Factor, December 4, 2003.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the Personal Story segment tonight, the tragic saga of 25-year-old Green Beret James Alford.

In 2001, the staff sergeant was assigned duty in the country of Oman, and, while there, he ate a traditional dinner of goat brains.

About a year later, Alford's behavior began to get bizarre, and he was demoted in rank. Despite that, the Army deployed him to Iraq in January 2003, but his health continued to decline, as did his behavior.

Finally, in April 2003, he was sent to Fort Campbell in Kentucky to be court-martialed and kicked out of the Special Forces. But, while there, doctors made a startling discovery. James Alford had mad cow disease, which causes progressive dementia. His brain was literally being eaten away.

The Army then declared Alford medically incompetent and began processing his retirement. They also reinstated his rank.

But his family says there are still problems. What a mess.

Joining us now from Dallas are the parents of Staff Sergeant Alford, retired Sergeant Major John Alford and his wife, Gail. Also, from Boston, Fox News Military Analyst Colonel David Hunt.

Sergeant Alford, first, we want to ask you about James. How's he doing right now?

SGT. MAJ. JOHN ALFORD, FATHER OF GREEN BERET: He's about the same that he has been lately. He's not doing any better. He's sleeping quite a bit more. Sometimes he sleeps by day and stays awake all night, but we've just adjusted to that.

O'REILLY: All right. Can you carry on a conversation with him? Is he lucid?

JOHN ALFORD: No, sir. We talk to him. We talk to him just as if he was coherent, and I think he hears us, but he cannot answer us. He cannot communicate in any way.

O'REILLY: All right. So he's in like a vegetative state here, that you have to care for him, feed him, and all of that?

JOHN ALFORD: Yes, sir. He's fed through a tube, but he does take some foods orally, baby foods, and some foods that we process ourselves.

O'REILLY: All right. So he's in bed all the time.

JOHN ALFORD: Yes, sir.

O'REILLY: You have to take care of him, make sure he's alive. Now this is not going to change, right? You can't turn this around, correct?

JOHN ALFORD: No, sir. As far as we know, we cannot.

O'REILLY: All right. Now, Mrs. Alford, what do you want to see happen here?

GAIL ALFORD, MOTHER OF GREEN BERET: I want my son to remain on active duty until his death, and I want his durable power of attorney that he initiated for me prior to being deployed to be honored by the Army.

O'REILLY: What does that mean, though, in concrete terms for you?

GAIL ALFORD: In concrete terms, I want them to fully reinstate his pay and to honor it completely.

O'REILLY: All right, but his rank has been reinstated. I assume he's gotten the back pay that he...


O'REILLY: No? He hasn't gotten the back pay yet?


JOHN ALFORD: No. They took him back to his E-6 -- his staff sergeant pay grade, but they're still processing and working on his back pay, and we assume it will be forthcoming.

O'REILLY: Yes, the Army tells us it will be.


O'REILLY: So I wouldn't worry about the financial end of it.

JOHN ALFORD: Yes, but what we're concerned with now -- his pay has been frozen, and it was released temporarily pending my wife being appointed guardian, and then they're only going to pay 80 percent of his pay.

O'REILLY: All right.

JOHN ALFORD: He's an American soldier and he's entitled to it.

O'REILLY: You're right. Got it. You think that he was wounded in the line of duty because, you know, you eat this stuff over in a country where you're posted, so he should get full pay until he's deceased?

JOHN ALFORD: Yes, sir.

O'REILLY: All right.

JOHN ALFORD: And medical benefits.

O'REILLY: And medical benefits. Well, we assume that the V.A. is taking care of him, are they not?

JOHN ALFORD: Well, sir, they would. We want our son to be provided the best medical care available, and we would like to see that either in a military medical facility, not a V.A. hospital, but a military medical facility or a commercial hospital. If he is retired as they're trying to do, he can be treated in a civilian facility, but they will only pay 80 percent of it.

O'REILLY: Eighty percent of it, all right.

JOHN ALFORD: Yes, sir.

O'REILLY: Now, Colonel Hunt, you're heard this terrible story. I mean everybody watching it now -- this poor guy goes over there, and, through no fault of his own, I mean, what is he, 27, 28 years old.

COL. DAVID HUNT (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Twenty-five.

O'REILLY: Well, I think that was when he was -- OK.

JOHN ALFORD: No, sir. He celebrated his 25th birthday three Sundays ago.

O'REILLY: All right. So he's 25 -- geez, just 25 years old. Amazing. So, anyway, he's going to die. And, you know, what do you do? What should the Army do here?

HUNT: This the worst case of abuse of a soldier I've seen in 30 years.

O'REILLY: Really?

HUNT: I have never seen, heard, read, dreamed that the United States Army, that this Special Forces group that I'm a proud member of, a historic unit, would treat another human being, a soldier, a Special Forces soldier like this. The last thing this great kid remembers is the Army called him a liar.

What they've got to do is get the chief of staff of the Army -- this has got to happen fast. He doesn't have a lot of time. His parents -- his mother -- his father is a 34-year veteran of the military, his mother is a nine-year veteran in the military, and his wife is a three-year veteran.

The power of attorney is so stupid, they deployed over in Iraq together, so they had to have a power of attorney with somebody else.

The Army has made a mistake every step of the way. This guy made staff sergeant in five years. It takes normally seven to 10 years.

He got sick, by the way, not at Fort Campbell, but trying out for Delta Force. Besides SEAL Team 6, the Army's Delta Force, the premier counter-terrorism unit in the world. That's the kind of guy he is, four-time volunteer, Bronze Star medal-winner in Afghanistan, goes to Iraq, and they treat him like dirt.

And they're still doing it to his family. This is the biggest outrage I have ever heard of in 30 years.

O'REILLY: So we need to contact the head of the Army right now, right?

HUNT: They ought to get this fixed. There's a great guy who's a deputy commander at 5th Special Forces group, who heard about this in the paper.

This wouldn't have been done without Fox News and The O'Reilly Factor doing this and some local papers writing about it. And they need rank to push this fast.

It's got to be fixed immediately, it will take about a four-star general, pick up the phone, talk to this man's family, 34-year veteran father, a sergeant major, and a nine-year veteran mother and fix it now.

O'REILLY: All right. Well, we can make that happen. I think we can make that happen. So he should get full back pay right away, and he should get into the best medical facility the government can provide and they should pay 100 percent of it, right?

HUNT: Absolutely. Absolutely. And they can do that, exceptions, it doesn't matter, take care of this guy now.

O'REILLY: All right. And that would be OK with you folks if we get your full pay coming in and then the best medical facility the government can provide a hundred-percent paid?

JOHN ALFORD: Sir, that's what we're asking for, that and respect and honor the power of attorney, not just for my son, but if he's having this problem, we're having this problem -- we're losing people every day in Iraq, and there's got to be a lot of other families having the same trouble and don't know what to do about it.

O'REILLY: All right. Well, let's work on this first, and then we'll get to the other problem.

All right. Well, we're going to work with Colonel Hunt, and we're going to try to get a definitive word by Monday. You know, we'll give the Army a little time to cut through the bureaucracy, but I think we'll work it out. I really do, and if we don't...

HUNT: I do, too.

O'REILLY: Yes. If we don't it ain't going to be good.

All right. Mr. and Mrs. Alford, we want you to have a very merry Christmas, and we're very sad that this happened to your son.

HUNT: God bless the family.

O'REILLY: And we will try to do everything we can for you.

And, Colonel, as always, we appreciate it.

And we'll have an update on Monday about this situation.

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