Falcon's Cry: A Desert Storm Memoir

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9780275964627: Falcon's Cry: A Desert Storm Memoir

When Major Michael Donnelly was instructing his U.S. Air Force student pilots, he used to tell them three things: Timing is everything; it's nice to be lucky; and there is no justice. Highly decorated fighter pilot, proud young patriot, loyal friend with a mischievous sense of humor, loving husband and father of two, he could not have imagined the tragic meaning those words would assume just a few years after his tour of duty in Desert Storm. In 1996 Major Donnelly was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease, at the unusually young age of 35; the onset of this illness marked the beginning of a kind of torture beyond the scope of even the most rigorous military survival training. Betrayed by his body, eventually paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, he experienced another betrayal perhaps even more difficult to comprehend―betrayal by his country. For despite the fact that over 110,000 Desert Storm veterans are sick, many dying of mysterious cancers and neurological diseases, including more than ten times the normal incidence of ALS―and despite all evidence pointing to U.S. troops having been dosed by low levels of Iraqi nerve agents and exposed to chemical weapons' fallout―the Pentagon adamantly denies any connection between their illnesses and their service in the Gulf War. Falcon's Cry: A Desert Storm Memoir, Michael Donnelly's unforgettable story, is his courageous attempt to unearth the truth and force an acknowledgment of that truth by the government he and his fellow veterans defended with their lives.

Flying 44 fighter jet combat missions in a war fought on an all-or-nothing scale was thrilling for Michael Donnelly. When the war was won, he and his country rejoiced in the knowledge that, unlike in Vietnam, America had gotten it right in the Persian Gulf. Less than a decade later, the world is learning what veterans and their families have known since Desert Storm―we did not get it right at all. Saddam Hussein is still terrorizing a large portion of the globe. Moreover, we did not learn the lesson of Agent Orange which the Department of Defense denied for decades was the cause of early deaths and birth defects among Vietnam veterans and their families. Yet, thanks largely to the testimony of the author before the House of Representatives in 1997, a first step has been taken toward justice for the tens of thousands of Desert Storm veterans who are suffering virtually in isolation, many without any medical or disability benefits. Major Donnelly believes the truth about Gulf War Illnesses will be uncovered by studies funded in the recently passed Omnibus Appropriations bill, as well as through stories like his own, and he fervently hopes that America can, at last, get it right.

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Review:

Michael Donnelly's diary entries offer a matter-of-fact account of his 44 combat missions during the Gulf War, but his descriptions of dealing with doctors after coming home are more frightening. Diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, Donnelly is convinced what he has is "Gulf War syndrome"--brought on by exposure to low levels of nerve and poison gases during the war. "I don't know what to believe, where to turn for help," he writes. "All the while my body continues to deteriorate, heedless of the possible causes of its slow degeneration." Although he had served in the military for 15 years, Donnelly had to hire a lawyer and appeal to the Air Force Medical Evaluation Board to force the air force to pay him full disability benefits. And though the government denied any responsibility for his illness, we learn that U.S. officials both in Washington and at the front were aware of Iraq's chemical-weapons capability--and continued with their plans regardless: "Troops came upon camels lying dead and decaying in the desert ... dogs and rodents and other small animals died, suddenly, inexplicably, shortly after those tens of thousands of 'false' chemical weapons alarms rang out. The alarms were so common, some commanders even ordered their troops to disable or disregard them." Falcon's Cry is a story of courage and betrayal, a war story in which the casualty doesn't occur until after the fighting stops. --Linda Killian

Book Description:

In this remarkable, gripping book, [Donnelly] has embarked on one last bombing run—a devastating attack against the Pentagon, Veterans Affairs Department, and other repositories of dangerous federal health policies…. Falcon's Cry is also a heart-wrenching examination of what it's like to have your body wither away while your mind remains lively and sharp…. The book is a frightening, inspiring tale of bravery and persistence. Gannett News Service.

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