On Tuesday, retired Army Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford will walk into the U.S. House for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address wearing his dress blues.
Lunsford, one of the victims of the 2009 Fort Hood massacre, said he wants the nation to see a survivor.
“I want all Americans to see the true meaning of patriotism and resolve,” said Lunsford, who will be the guest of Rep. Roger Williams, a Republican whose congressional district stretches from the edges of Tarrant County to Austin.
“I want to be there just so that our commander in chief can see me and know that we [the Fort Hood victims] are bouncing back,” Lunsford, 47, of North Carolina, said in a phone interview. “That’s the spirit of the American soldiers.”
Lunsford, who is among those still seeking combat-related healthcare and benefits because the shooting is classified as workplace violence rather than terrorism, said he hopes his presence sends a message.
Williams and other members of Congress have been working on legislation to ensure that the victims of the attack at Fort Hood — one of the worst mass shootings on a military base, in which 13 people died and nearly three dozen were injured — receive the same benefits as Purple Heart recipients, which include combat-related special compensation.
“I am honored to have Sgt. Lunsford as my special guest to hear from the president,” Williams said. “It is a shame that President Obama has allowed all the victims and survivors of the Fort Hood shootings to be denied the benefits and compensation awarded to troops injured in combat.”
Last year, a military jury determined that former Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan was guilty of the shootings and should be executed.
“The White House has yet to act on behalf of the victims of this heinous act of terror,” Williams said. “I hope the president will make good on his promise to take care of these men and women.”
The State of the Union is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
In 2009, Lunsford was at the Fort Hood center where soldiers preparing for deployments were being processed. He has testified that he tried to hide but that Hasan spotted him and shot him in the face.
After collapsing in a pool of blood, he played dead.
But he testified that when he realized “dead men don’t sweat,” he tried to flee — and was shot six more times.
He lost sight in his left eye and has had half a dozen surgeries, including one for facial reconstruction.
One bullet remains lodged in his back.
“Right now, I’m in severe pain,” Lunsford said. “We are in a cold snap in North Carolina. The bullet still in my body ... decides to act up in cold weather.”
But Lunsford, a married father of five who retired from the Army for medical reasons, said he won’t let the cold or the pain stop him from attending Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
Lunsford said he wants Americans to “see with their own eyes a survivor hit once to the head and six times to the body standing tall and representing the nation.”
While in Washington, he said, he hopes to tell his story — and those of all the victims that day at Fort Hood — to Williams and as many others as possible, “just to give some insight of what a lot of the survivors are going through day to day, the battle they are suffering, especially for the younger soldiers who were injured and the families of the soldiers who were killed.”
“We have an all-volunteer fighting force,” he said. “The men and women who don uniforms … they know what can happen but it doesn't matter because they feel they are doing their patriotic duty to defend our great nation. They put their trust in the American people and the government. One would think we have been treated differently than we have.”
He said the victims and their families are living with physical and spiritual injuries every day, and will for the rest of their lives.
“We aren’t doing this for the money,” he said. “We are doing this for what’s right and for the benefits we richly deserve.”
In honor of others
As for the guilty verdict against Hasan, Lunsford said he believes justice was served.
But as the automatic appeals process continues, he said he doesn’t believe that Hasan will be put to death.
And he has made peace with that.
“Every day I get to walk outside,” Lunsford said. “I can feel the cold brisk wind across my face. I can walk into my room, lay in the bed beside my loving wife and hug my children.
“He won’t have that luxury. He’s confined to a cell and a wheelchair,” he said. “He gets to sit in that cell and think about the consequences of his actions.”
And when Lunsford walks into the State of the Union address Tuesday night, he does so representing not just himself.
“I’m going to have my dress blue uniform on in honor of the deceased from 2009 and all of the fallen in the war on terrorism.”