March 25th, 2008
01:22 PM ET

Iraq 5 years ago: A family searching for a face

At the start of the war in Iraq, I was a booker for the network’s coverage, assigned to work from 4pm – 4am in the Atlanta newsroom.  Part of my assignment was to assemble numbers and reach out to family members of those killed or captured during combat.  To be honest, this is the worst part of my job.  It is never something I want to do, but in the interest of telling what was going on in those early stages of the war, it was a necessity.

I was looking over my files Monday morning from our initial war coverage, and could not believe just how many names were on my list, and how many people I called.  One of the greatest pleasures of my job is seeing an interview that I coordinated and knowing that the people who watched it were touched by it.  I don’t know if anyone was touched by watching the interviews with the family members of those killed in Iraq but there is one that still resonates with me, even 5 years later.

Donald Walters' family

Arlene and Norman Walters hold a portrait of their son, Sgt. Donald Walters. Their son was captured in March 2003 in the same battle that injured Pfc. Jessica Lynch, and then executed by his captors.

The first family that I remember booking was with the parents of Sgt. Donald Walters, Norman and Arlene Walters.  He was a member of the 507th Maintenance Company that, so famously, had Jessica Lynch and 5 other members captured by the Iraqi’s after their convoy was ambushed in Nasiriyah. 

That night, March 24th, 5 years ago, the Walters family did an interview with CNN.  It was just hours after they found out their son’s convoy had been missing.  I still remember the look on Arlene’s face.  It was pure agony. She didn't know what was going on, had no communication with the Army, which was speaking with Donald’s wife,  and had no clue where to turn.  She told us, “I just keep watching, naturally, CNN and looking to see if maybe, you know, I see a picture of him or something - alive.”

Five years later, we know that Sgt. Walters was executed after being captured by the Fedayeen.  It took an Army investigation, and the relentless pursuit of the truth by his parents, for this information to be released, but somehow I think that not many people knew this, and it was probably not widely reported. 

That family will always hold a place in my heart, as well as the other families I spoke to and gathered information from for CNN’s coverage.  But, as the news of more troops being killed over the past few days, and the number reaching 4,000 troops who have died in Iraq, I know that there are still more families going through this pain and agony, not knowing what happened to their sons and daughters on the streets of Iraq. 

– Kay Jones, 360° Booker

Filed under: AC360° Staff • Behind The Scenes • Iraq
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate


    I can't even imagine doing this job for 5 years or even for 5 seconds. It must be incredibly hard and I admire you for the ability to do it and not be numbed by it.

    I wish 360 would do a regular spot perhaps once a week on Fridays to honor those who have fallen each week – put some names and faces to the statistics.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    March 25, 2008 at 9:27 pm |
  2. Marvin

    Truly, one cannot choose ones family, but one can choose his pastor....sound judgment is needed in the latter......

    March 25, 2008 at 8:06 pm |
  3. xtina

    Disagree w/ 'Deepak' – families of perished in Iraq are not attacking President because they believe it's better be altruistic, like their sons and daughters who serve our country.

    Thank you to all the soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and coasties who have served our country in Iraq and throughout the world. I'm truly thankful that people like you are willing to risk your lives to that all I have to worry about are the small struggles of everyday life. Thank you for giving me and all other Americans this freedom.

    March 25, 2008 at 7:50 pm |
  4. Tammy

    Families and friends of those lost aren't attacking because they understand honor, valor, respect for their Commander-in Chief, and that freedom sometimes means paying the ultimate cost of life. I'd really appreciate CNN taking the high road by refusing to place anti-war and anti-veteran comments on this blog and on your show. Otherwise, you dishonor those who lost their lives so the Iraqi people could have democracy and freedom and those who still fight today. It's just wrong to say you're reporting on this fairly, you support our troops and their loved ones, and you are honoring the memories of lives lost when you allow such hateful rhetoric on your site. I have to wonder if you're playing the role of Judas towards our military and their loved ones when you engage in such behaviors. And if covering all the angles means desecrating my friend's memory and service and my family and friends' service in this war, I'll watch that other network that does honestly honor our men and women in uniform.

    March 25, 2008 at 7:47 pm |
  5. Deepak Dighe

    Why aren't families of the wounded and dead Iraq war vets united in attacking the lowest intelectual President in the history of the United States and the most corrupt and crooked oil-lobbyist Vice President Chenny?

    Evryone know sthat this war is illegal, based on greed for oil, and dangerous relegious ideologies. Are most US vets and their families also reliegeous fanatic Christians, just like Islamic Extremists, who support this war between two reliegions?

    Can the families of the dead and injured vets pressure Col Powell to tell the truth, and help impeach BOZZO (Bush) and CROOK (Chenny) before they get out of the office and run to safe Haven in Dubai, or Riyadh?

    March 25, 2008 at 5:52 pm |
  6. marcy

    In Shock and Awe, Candy made the comment that we don't have the coffins to watch coming off the tarmac it was the wounded that were getting the press because they were coming back. I'd like to see you guys spend equal time on both. The soldiers coming home are being forgotten; the soldier’s families who aren't coming home are also being forgotten. Either way ... we forget as soon as the next big story comes along, so while I can't even imagine how heart wrenching those phone calls had to be thank you for making them so that the solider didn't die without someone knowing their story. For every 5 that make it on the air there's 20 that come home with no fan fare and no story that gets told.

    Marcy- Mobile, AL

    March 25, 2008 at 2:13 pm |
  7. comfortablynumb

    that is one hell of a job...and not a fun one either. I am sure that was hard, breaking the news to a family, hanging up, and knowing that you were about to do the same thing to another with the next eleven digits. But to me, it is those times that make us appreciate what our soldiers do for our world, and not just with war, but with every aspect of life.

    "It takes silence to make sound, it takes bad for satisfaction, it takes a hole to make a mountain...life is wonderful".

    I'm sure every number changed your life as well, and they appreciate your work.

    March 25, 2008 at 1:46 pm |
  8. Cindy

    I wish that you all would start back doing more of these types of interviews. It puts a face to this war instead of just a number that means nothing. These people fought and died for us we owe them that much.

    For a while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone unreported on. To me and to a lot of others that is a shame!! No matter what you think of these wars we still should be talking about them every day and not just when it is a ratings grabber or an anniversary of some kind. The media only seems to want to tell about something in Iraq only if it's going bad...CNN and 360 included! That is a shame too! I am sure there is a lot going on that is good that you could tell about but don't.

    Cynthia, Covington, Ga.

    March 25, 2008 at 1:37 pm |