'Lost Boy' of Sudan Served U.S. in Iraq

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Renee Montagne talks with U.S. Army Captain David Moses. He served two tours in Iraq, and will be one of the speakers marking Memorial Day at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington today. Moses was one of the thousands of children in Sudan displaced by civil war. He is known as one of the "Lost Boys." He tells us how serving in Iraq reminded him of the rough days he survived as a child in Sudan.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

At the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial today, one of the speakers will be Army Captain David Moses. He has served two tours of duty in Iraq, and he calls that a miracle.

David Moses's original first name was Musambuqu(ph). It means trouble or time of unrest. He was one of the lost boys of Sudan - the thousands of children driven from their homes by civil war. Separated from his family when he was 14, Moses walked with other teenagers in the wilderness until they reached a refugee camp.

We asked Captain Moses to our studios to hear more of his story.

DAVID MOSES: When we left Sudan we were still, you know, trying to hide from the government soldiers. And of course we have to worry about the wild animals. But I had many, many other boys who were also in the same situation, and so we were able to encourage each other until we reached our destination - the refugee camp in Kenya.

MONTAGNE: You spent that time in a refugee camp in Kenya and then came to the U.S. as a refugee, ended up South Dakota. What did you think when you showed up there?

MOSES: It was a huge culture shock for me. I came from a tropical-type climate, and I ended up in the harsh winters of South Dakota. I had to adjust to that. I went and worked in a meat company. I was like in a huge deep freezer, working on a production line, picking up a pig from one machine and putting it on the other.

MONTAGNE: David Moses managed to get out of that meat-packing plant. He enrolled in college and he joined the ROTC program.

Five years ago, the young man who'd fled Sudan's civil war found himself in another war zone, this time as an American officer in Iraq. In his words it was déjà vu, like the conflict he fled from in southern Sudan, with one difference.

MOSES: It was different, because when I was in Sudan I was just a civilian and I was just a kid. And so when bullets started flying, my natural instinct was to try to look for cover. But when I was in Iraq I had men that I had to lead. When bullets started flying over there, of course I wanted to run and take cover, but I had a job to do. I had to lead my platoon.

MONTAGNE: When you stand before the Vietnam Memorial and you give your talk to others who've been to war, what will be the thing that will be most important to you?

MOSES: To honor and remember those who paid the ultimate price in the name of freedom.

When I was in Iraq, I had a friend - a fellow platoon leader - that paid the ultimate price. So it would be an appropriate occasion to honor this sacrifice.

MONTAGNE: His name is obviously not on the Vietnam Memorial, but if his name was listed there, what would it be and what would it say?

MOSES: It would say U.S. Army Second Lieutenant Leonard M. Cowherd - died May 16, 2004 in Karbala, Iraq, while securing a building near the Mukhayam Mosque.

MONTAGNE: Captain Moses, thank you very much for talking with us.

MOSES: I also wanted to add one other thing if you don't mind.

MONTAGNE: Yes, absolutely.

MOSES: There are many of - many reason why I joined the U.S. Army. But part of it was because when I was growing up, as I was going through all my struggles, many people went out of their way to help me out, especially when I came to this country. And so joining the U.S. Army was a way for me to give back, to serve my adopted country, because I know I'm representing something that is greater than myself.

MONTAGNE: Captain David Moses has served two tours of duty in Iraq. He'll be speaking today at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Thank you very much for joining us.

MOSES: Thank you so much for inviting me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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