Claude Lewis

is a longtime

Philadelphia journalist

Even if our obdurate president, George W. Bush, refuses to face the facts, it's obvious that his war in Iraq is one of the most unpopular our nation ever has had to fight.

After more than four years of combat, most Americans still have doubts concerning why we went to war there in the first place and how we'll extricate ourselves with both dignity and grace.

Not much has gone well with this odd war. Although Saddam Hussein was removed, the United States and its allies have lost more than 4,000 lives, and the count continues.

There is also a somewhat hidden side of the fight that most of us deeply regret. It's not simply the number of American lives that have been lost, but the number of men and women who have suffered severe disabilities, including loss of the full use of their arms, legs, eyes and minds. As politicians, pundits and presidential aspirants yammer endlessly about the war, more than 27,000 men and women have been victimized by bullets, bombs, explosives and other weapons. Lives, families and futures have been ruined.

This is made clear in a stunning 56-minute HBO documentary, Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq, directed by the award-winning actor James Gandolfini. He vividly reveals the extent of the damage to Americans from this futile and melancholy war.

Gandolfini brings his cameras in close so that viewers cannot escape the crushing reality of the 10 men and women he interviews, all severely injured while serving their country. Each speaks candidly about his or her wounds and future. Perhaps most surprising is their lack of bitterness. While their lives have been changed forever, their love for America remains starkly intact.

Army Cpl. Jonathan Bartlett, 22, of Norfolk, Va., a bilateral amputee with many shrapnel wounds, speaks about his reality: "I try to move my limbs, to stretch some of this odd weariness out of me when the pain sears into my mind. The pain lights me up like a nuke on a foggy day. I then begin to yell and scream the most obscene and natural curses. . . . After I calm down and my tears have cleared, I look about and actually see the source of my pain and my family's woe; I appear to be a mass of bandages from the waist down. I realize to my horror that my legs are mostly missing."

Dawn Halfaker is a native of San Diego. She was 27 and a first lieutenant in the Army. Her right arm and shoulder were amputated in an explosion. She suffered lung damage and multiple internal shrapnel injuries. She says: "My dark memories are inescapable; they are the fiber that shaped the threads of my new life, and I must accept them for what they are and persevere through them."

Jay Wilkerson, 41, an Army staff sergeant from El Sobrante, Calif., suffers long- and short-term memory loss. He has lost the use of eight fingers, and the left side of his body is damaged. His two children call him daily at the hospital. "They call to make sure I'm OK," he says, "and it's weird, because I'm the parent. But they call me to make sure I'm OK." Then he laughs.

Crystal Davis, 23, is a soldier from Camden, S.C., who lost her right leg below the knee and had every bone in her left leg broken. She plans to help rehabilitate other injured military personnel: "Who better to help those in need than someone who has been there themselves?"

Resilience is the key word. No one in this powerful documentary has given up. They all see a future and are working to make it the best it can be. They underscore for all of us what it means to love family, life and country, even under conditions they may not fully understand. In some ways, many of them are far more dedicated and powerful than many of the people in Washington who lead us.