NEAL CONAN, host:
Today, thousands gathered to hear about the 13 men and women who were killed last week in Fort Hood, Texas, to hear about those who were injured, to hear about those who made such extraordinary efforts to save their lives, to develop medical services. Among those who spoke, President Barack Obama. In his remarks, he remembered the fallen and spoke directly to those left behind.
President BARACK OBAMA: For those families who have lost a loved one, no words can fill the void thats been left. We knew these men and women are soldiers and caregivers. You knew them as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. But here is what you must also know. Your loved ones endure through the life of our nation. Their memory will be honored in the places they lived and by the people they touched.
Their lifes work is our security and the freedom that we all too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town, every dawn that a flag is unfurled, every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that is their legacy.
CONAN: For the remainder of this hour, we want to hear from those of you who live on a base, a post, a naval station. How has your life changed since the shooting at Fort Hood? Give us a call: 800-989-8255 is the phone number. You can also send us an email. The address is email@example.com.
Im Neal Conan in Washington. And with us from the studios of member station WFPL in Louisville, Kentucky is retired Major General Michael Davidson. And Gen. Mike, as we listen to those moving last moments, tell us a little bit about that roll call ceremony.
Major General MICHAEL DAVIDSON (U.S. Army, Retired): Its a tradition, and its painful. But again, its part of recognizing the loss and moving forward with the mission.
CONAN: And as the president wandered amongst those portraits of the fallen, he left a little medallion at each. I dont know exactly what it says, but every unit has its own coin.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: It does. And presidents tend to get a lot of them, and they give a few. So thats a serious commitment on his part to leave those coins down there.
CONAN: You spoke earlier when you were with us, that at these moments, the presidents of the United States are called upon to - well, not closure, you said, but some degree of comfort for those whose lives have been lost. And youd have to say that President Obama rose to this occasion.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: He did. The first time I had to be with a politician in a situation like that - I was a young brigadier general - I was very apprehensive. I didnt know what was going to happen. But its astounding the way the political leaders can give comfort to the families in times of great grief. And I thought the presidents remarks were first rate. They seemed quite mature and somehow more understanding of the problems we face than perhaps had this event not happened. He wouldnt have had the opportunity to learn more about what we do.
CONAN: And its interesting that just in the past week or so, the president has visited Walter Reed Hospital, the Army hospital here in Washington, D.C. -where interestingly, the alleged shooter worked for six years - and before that was also at Dover Air Force Base to participate in the ceremonies as the bodies of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan came home.
Lets go next to Wade Goodwyn, our national correspondent with us from Fort Hood in Texas. Hes been there at the ceremony today.
Wade, good of you to be with us.
WADE GOODWYN: Oh, Im glad to.
CONAN: And this has been a bright, sunny day, yet a somber occasion.
GOODWYN: It was beautiful here, temperatures in the mid-70s. And for an American, it was a staring sight: the thousands of soldiers and the fatigues, the large American flag hanging from the roof of the III Corps Headquarters, so many people here honoring the men and women who gave their lives in the service of the country. Thirteens too many, but we know theyre not going to be the last.
CONAN: Regrettably not. And the president, of course, facing the decision about whether to send additional forces to Afghanistan. He was speaking as - well, just a couple of days ago in Iraq, an important political development that allows elections to go ahead that could allow U.S. forces there to withdraw on schedule. Nevertheless, the commanding general in Afghanistan has called for additional forces there to implement a counterinsurgency strategy.
The president will be meeting tomorrow at the White House with his senior advisers to discuss four different options. And again, that will come after not just this service today, where he will be ready and be more aware than ever of the price thats being asked of the members of the U.S. Armed Forces, but, of course, that will also follow on Veterans Day, the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
GOODWYN: Well, you know, with his midnight rendezvous with the soldiers who were coming home from the war and now the killings here at the post, I think the president has been submerged in the reality of the cost of these wars in a way that he hadnt before. When youre here on the post, you know, you quickly realize that this is a community of young, very fit, well-trained soldiers who were, you know, feverishly preparing themselves to go to war.
As for these men and women, the soldiers are psychologically resilient, I think, both by the dint of their age, their mission and their training. And if you talk to them, it only takes a few minutes to discover that outwardly, at least, they have themselves and their emotions under control. Almost to a man and woman, they tell me that theyre focused on their mission, which Im guessing probably makes their sergeants happy to hear, since they have no doubt been drilling that message home for the last five or six days.
Ive learned not to be fooled by their age. Most of these soldiers have been in the war theater at least once, plenty of them more than once. Taking casualties - whether here or abroad - comes with the job description. You know, what the rank-and-file tell me that theyve learned most from this is to be more alert on the post. Thats the adjustment they seem to be taking away from this shooting.
CONAN: And the slightest of corrections, Wade, if sergeants were happy, they wouldnt be sergeants. Just wanted to add one other question. I know that the alleged shooter, Major Hasan, was meeting with his lawyers yesterday. Hes declined to speak with investigators. Any further news on the investigation?
GOODWYN: Well, I mean, we know the latest is that the major was in contact with this radical cleric in Yemen named Anwar al-Awlaki. This clerics been associated with a mosque in Virginia that the major had gone to. He was said to have communicated several times with al-Awlaki, and the federal officials were aware of that as far back as December. A terrorism task force must have been monitoring those communications. But reportedly, they were not concerned by the content of the exchange.
CONAN: And indeed suggested that this was within the realm of the duties that the major was engaged in at that time, the kind of research he was doing.
GOODWYN: As youve said, the major is now awake at Brooke Army Medical Center. He was talking to his lawyer yesterday and today. And the lawyers asked the FBI not to interview him for now. And weve learned that when charges are going to be brought, the major will be tried in military court because the shooting took place on post of Fort Hood.
CONAN: Wade Goodwyn, we know youve got other work to do. We thank you for your time today. Appreciate it.
GOODWYN: Its my pleasure.
CONAN: National correspondent Wade Goodwyn, with us today from Fort Hood in Texas. And again, the ceremony there has just wrapped up. The president and his party are making their way out. We were told earlier today that hed be meeting with members visiting the hospitals some - to visit some of those injured who were unable to be at the ceremony today before he comes back to Washington, D.C.
Our number - wed like to hear from those of you who live on military installations in this country, around the world, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And lets turn first to Danielle, Danielle with us from Fort Campbell in Kentucky.
DANIELLE (Caller): Hi. Yes. Im the wife of an Army soldier. Hes been a soldier now for 11 years. Hes deployed three times, and we live on Fort Campbell. Whenever I send my husband to Iraq or Afghanistan, I expect him to get shot at. But I know hes armed and I know that the people around him are armed. Whenever I send him to work every day, I dont expect him to get shot at. I expect him to be safe.
Fort Campbell is where we live. Its where our kids go to school. They play on the playground. We watch movies here at the movie theater. We shop here. This is our life. This is our community, and we shouldnt have to worry about whether were safe or not.
CONAN: And it sounds like this incident has made you nervous.
DANIELLE: You know, we - it makes me nervous. We have friends at Fort Hood. You know, we had friends in the engineer brigade that was affected the most. The thought that our friends in the military, our family in the military, we might be victims where we live, that does make you nervous. You need to know who your enemies are and who theyre not.
CONAN: And civilians might have the impression that there are guns all over the place on military installations. That's not the case.
DANIELLE: oh, no.
CONAN: Only handed out for training purposes and that sort of thing. This is home.
DANIELLE: It's like any other community. I mean, we have football games on Friday night. NPR carried a story about the Fort Campbell versus the Fort Knox football game just a couple of weeks ago. You know, we have school plays. We have - anything that you'd have in any American community, that's what we have. We have, you know, family housing areas with, you know, two-story houses, garages, SUVs in the driveway, dogs barking, just like any other household
DANIELLE: on any other city street.
CONAN: General Davidson, I'm sure you've spent more than your fair amount of time on military installations.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: I have. I've gone to Fort Campbell by parachute more than one time. But military posts used to be more secure. They were closed. You had to show an ID and often have a reason for getting there. Some posts still have that protection. Some do not. So I suspect that the Pentagon and the White House will take another look at post security because we owe it to our soldiers and their families for them to have a peaceful haven to return to from the wars we send them to so often.
CONAN: A peaceful haven. Is it ever going to be peaceful again, Danielle?
DANIELLE: You know, I think it can. Our post, you do have to be checked to come on post. You do have to have a pass to get on post. But this was an in-the-Army thing. I mean, it wasn't somebody trying to get on post. It was somebody who had an ID and somebody who could get on post.
CONAN: And forgive me, Danielle. Is your husband currently in Iraq?
DANIELLE: No. He's - he will be going to Afghanistan soon.
CONAN: And that is just going to - this will be his fourth tour?
DANIELLE: His fourth. Yeah. He's had two tours over or 15 months and one that was about a year.
CONAN: And this one for another year?
CONAN: And does he know where he's going?
CONAN: Well, will you please tell him that we wish him the very best?
DANIELLE: Okay. Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Danielle. General Davidson, as you think about all of those people in all of those American facilities all over the world that have to be thinking in somehow - something of a different way about their homes today.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: I think they are. And it's not unlike the entire nation thinking in a different way after 9/11. But we'll get through this. It's tough. It's hard. It's particularly hard when you look at these young men and women. But we'll get through it.
Remember, Neal - and if you watch enough cable news, you'll lose sight of this fact: We're the nation that fought and won the American Revolution so that we could have a country based on freedom. We're the nation that fought a horrific Civil War to preserve that union. We defended the country in two world wars in the last century. We'll get through this.
CONAN: Retired General Mike Davidson with us today from Louisville in Kentucky, as we continue to hear the echoes from the memorial service that was held today at Fort Hood in Texas, where 13 men and women were murdered last week in an incident that has reverberated throughout the U.S. military.
I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's special coverage from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is special coverage from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Earlier, the president of the United States addressed a memorial ceremony at Fort Hood in Texas. Thirteen men and women were murdered there last week in an incident that is still being investigated, yet we're told that just one man, Major Nidal Hasan, is suspected of the crime - he himself shot four times and is in a hospital in San Antonio, though he is conscious now, off a respirator, talking with his lawyers and preparing for what is likely to be his defense before a military court martial.
With us is Major General Michael Davidson, U.S. Army, retired. And he's with us at WFPL in Louisville, Kentucky. We want to hear from those of you who live on U.S. bases, posts, Naval stations and other facilities around the world. How has this incident at Fort Hood changed your life? 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com.
And let's begin with Kim, Kim with us from Fort Hood in Texas.
KIM (Caller): Hi.
KIM: Everything that happened on Thursday has definitely, you know, changed all of our lives. You would think that living on a military post is one of the safest places ever. And it just, you know, the incident of Thursday just goes to prove that, you know, even - it can affect there, you know, especially when you're not even half a mile from where everything happened on post.
CONAN: And was your husband - is a soldier?
KIM: Yes, sir. My husbands in the Army.
CONAN: And what happened immediately afterwards? Were you in touch with each other?
KIM: Yes. He sent me a text message because he was at work. And he told me that there had been a shooting on post and for me to be very careful. I asked him, you know, where, when. Hes like, I don't know. Just stay inside, lock the doors and stay away from the windows. He said that they herded him inside his company, and they had him on lockdown.
CONAN: Is it especially difficult since this was not an external attack? This was evidently someone from within.
KIM: It's really, you know, difficult. You don't picture somebody that took the oath to protect our country to turn around and turn on the people that they're supposed to help protect, you know? I mean, you wish you could know what was going through his mind. Like, did he wake up and say, oh, today, I'm going to go in and I'm going to, you know, kill 13 people and wound countless others?
CONAN: Yeah. Forty-two others, indeed.
CONAN: Kim, good luck to you and your husband. Thank you very much for the call.
KIM: Thank you.
CONAN: And let's see if we can go next to Jason, Jason with us from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
JASON (Caller): Good afternoon, gentlemen.
CONAN: Good afternoon.
JASON: I work primarily with - I'm a Naval officer stationed here at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and I work primarily with the infantry Marines here. And in the wake of the events last week, I've spoken with several of them. And the theme that keeps coming up to them - or from them, rather - is that if we can't trust our doctors, if we can't trust our officers, who can we trust? And the kind of corrosive morale - but the kind of corrosive effect that that has on morale, I think, is really a tragedy.
CONAN: And what do you think could change that? Yes, it's corrosive. But this is one incident.
JASON: You know, I've been really impressed with the Marine officers that I've seen here and the other Naval officers with their degree of transparency, with their willingness to say, you know, this - we don't understand what's going on, and this is an absolute tragedy and we don't know what's going on. But I think that as transparent as they are and as much as they're trying to affect change, down at the basic level, you know, lance corporals, PFCs, corporals, sergeants, they're really saying, look. These are the these are not just the people that was that were sworn to protect us. They're the ones that were sworn to heal us. And that, I think, is very, very difficult for them to take in and to understand.
CONAN: And people who not only ask, but demand your trust.
JASON: Absolutely. And, you know, and as a psychiatrist, this physician, you know, obviously, was dealing with people at their most vulnerable. And for that to have come back around on that community, I can only imagine the kind of tragedy that so many of them are feeling.
CONAN: I wonder if we turned to General Davidson - transparency, this is a moment for leadership.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: It is. And that was my comment, Neal. It's a leadership challenge. You will remember that when Pete Pace, the commandant of the Marine Corps, resigned, in private, he took his insignia off, took it down to the Vietnam Memorial, the wall
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: with a note that he had written for each of the four members of his platoon that Lieutenant Pace had lost in Vietnam. And the note said: These were yours the whole time, anyway. It's that kind of leadership that will restore any corroding elan. I have every confidence the Marine Corps can get through that. And there'll be some Naval officers that'll help. They're both sea services, by the way.
CONAN: Indeed. Jason, thanks very much for the call. Good luck to you.
JASON: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Have a good day.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Joining us here in Studio 3A in Washington is NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. Don, good of you to come in.
DON GONYEA: Glad to be here.
CONAN: And this is a moment for the president of the United States. This is a moment that he is called upon to act as commander-in-chief, yes, but also as chief of state.
GONYEA: It is one of those moments that every president gets, that every president suddenly finds themselves thrust into. There really is nothing to prepare a president for a moment like this in terms of kind of the day-to-day aspects of the job. And President Obama, speaking at the memorial service - he spoke for about 15 minutes. In many ways, this was a eulogy for all of those who passed, but it was very personal.
And we should note, too, that the service was delayed by some 40 minutes, 42 minutes or so because the hour that the president had been scheduled to meet with families of those who were killed in the shootings down there last week took much longer than they had originally set aside. And it also has an impact on the president before going out to deliver remarks like this.
CONAN: You can understand why you do not want to hurry through such meetings.
GONYEA: Exactly. Exactly. And each family had time with him. And in his remarks, each of the victims - we heard about them and what their job is/was on the base, but we also heard about their lives and their families outside of their military life. We heard about how each of them found their way into the military, the kind of choice that each made, deciding to enlist.
CONAN: Weve made reference to it a few times over the course of the past couple of hours, but the president, earlier in the past week or so, has visited both Walter Reed - the Army hospital here in Washington, D.C. - to see some injured soldiers, and also has gone to Dover Air Force Base to participate in the coming home ceremony for those killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Moments that he said - in an interview last night on ABC that I heard - well, of course, hes going to factor this into his decision that hes going to be making in the next week or so about whether to send additional soldiers to Afghanistan.
GONYEA: Absolutely. And were still hearing that that decision will come in weeks. We should add, too, that this memorial service today comes a day before Veterans Day. And tomorrow morning at the White House, the president will be hosting a breakfast with some military families, and he will be making the short trip up to Arlington for a wreath laying up there as well.
So all of this is on his mind as he weighs this very important decision. Again, not that he doesnt know, that he didnt already know how weighty these decisions are, but moments like this really do put it all into harmony.
CONAN: Don Gonyea, thanks very much.
GONYEA: My pleasure.
CONAN: NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea, with us here in Studio 3A in Washington, D.C. Lets see if we can get another caller on the line. And this Tiffany, Tiffany calling us from Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
TIFFANY (Caller): Hi. My husband is a student at Command and General Staff College here in Leavenworth. And I dont know, as the general knows, its full of a bunch of majors from every branch of the service, not only from the United States, but from all the around the world. And the feeling here is betrayal.
TIFFANY: They feel betrayed. It was a fellow major. It was a fellow officer. He was charged to lead enlisted men. And especially in his field - he was there when they were the most sensitive to the - to what was going on around them. And he betrayed everybody. I mean, we feel betrayed. We are educated people, and we do agree that everybody has the right to practice whatever religion they feel. And so that would have never even crossed our mind, knowing that he was a practicing Muslim. It was the fact that he was a soldier and he was charged to lead people. And it just feels betraying that he did what he did.
CONAN: General Davidson, can you understand that feeling of betrayal?
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Yes, we were betrayed. Shes exactly correct. And the soldiers out there are exactly correct. C&GSC is not a routine course. Its very selective. If you are chosen to go to Fort Leavenworth for that course, the Army thinks you have a future in the Army and that higher rank awaits you. These are smart men and women. Its not a routine event to be out there. So theyre smart folks, and if they think we were betrayed, in my opinion, its because we were.
CONAN: And how, Tiffany, do you get past this?
TIFFANY: Its going to be hard. My husband will graduate in December, and he assumes command at 1st Cavalry Division down at Fort Hood in January. So were not really getting past it. Were going to confront it head on when we assume our command. We will have soldiers and their families that were affected by this.
And Im struggling with how do I act as a COs wife to these families that need me? It totally changes my job description. And Im sorry for getting emotional, but these soldiers are my family. I am an - it is my Army family. Im a Marine brat. My dad is a sergeant major in the Marine Corps. This is all I know. The military is my family.
TIFFANY: Each one of those, you know, men and women were my brothers sisters.
CONAN: And we do understand that. And if you could, General Davidson, help us out just a minute to help some people in audience understand the role that the commanding officers wife plays in an institution like the 1st Cavalry Division.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Let me ask this, Tiffany. Was it a battalion command hes been selected for?
TIFFANY: Yes, general, a battalion command.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Okay. So, youre married to a fast burner. Youre married to somebody whos got a future in the Army. And as his wife, you will be responsible for the family support program for that battalion. A battalion is a key element in our Army. The only thing I can suggest to you, Tiffany, is that your husband will figure out how to confront his soldiers, support them, get them to the next level.
Hell do it. And if you will help him do it, as you obviously already have helped him - I suspect the sergeant majors influence is showing over the years. If you help him do it, you will also be preparing yourself for an equally challenging task as the head of the family support program for that battalion.
CONAN: Tiffany, good luck to you.
TIFFANY: Thank you so much, sir. Hua.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Hua.
CONAN: Let's go - get one more caller in. And this is Day(ph), Day with us from Fort Sam Houston in Texas.
CONAN: Day, you there?
DAY (Caller): Yes. Hi. Yes. This is Day. I'm stationed at - my husband is stationed at Fort Sam, therefore I am. And I agree a lot with the previous caller about the feeling of betrayal. The first thing I thought about is how confusing that must have been for the soldiers to see somebody else in uniform coming after them.
However, as I was watching it on the news that afternoon, my four-year-old and my 11-year-old were playing outside on Fort Sam, in front of our house. You know, I could see them from the kitchen as I cooked dinner. And I did not feel less comfortable on Fort Sam. I still feel like - because of the soldiers and the people that surround us on these military installations, I still feel very protected. I feel like it was an act that perhaps just happened, and I don't feel like I feel threatened that something like that could happen again here.
CONAN: So it's not something that you can easily wish away. Nevertheless, it is not something that changes your world view.
DAY: No. Yeah, exactly. I don't exactly. It was - what I really liked about watching the ceremony today - I watched it on NBC - was that an image, a picture was shown of each of the fallen. And it was - there was so much respect and admiration for each of them. And I really appreciated that they did that for them. And that's how I feel.
I feel like we have a very, very strong Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps -hope, I didn't leave anybody.
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CONAN: Coasties will be offended, but go ahead.
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DAY: Yeah. And my husband's in the Army, so I just - I feel safe. I feel like when I walk on post, you know, and I see the soldiers - and it's a very honorable place to be. That's how I feel.
CONAN: Well, Day, thanks very much. And we wish your husband and your children and yourself the best.
DAY: Thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate the phone call.
CONAN: And, General Davidson, we have to thank you for your time today.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Thank you. Tough duty, tough day, but thanks for letting me be a part of it with you.
CONAN: And, well, thank you for lending us your experience and your wisdom as well. Major General Mike Davidson, retired U.S. Army, joined us today from the studios of member station WFPL in Louisville, Kentucky.
We heard earlier today a very moving ceremony in Fort Hood, Texas, where the commander of that base - that was Lieutenant General Robert Cone - spoke, and we also heard from the Army Chief of Staff General George Casey. General Casey was among those at the ceremony who reminded mourners of the many costs of war, at home and abroad.
General GEORGE CASEY (Chief of Staff, U.S. Army): Yes, our soldiers, civilians and their families carry a heavy burden in this war. Yet their willingness to sacrifice to preserve our way of life and to build a better future for others is a great strength of this nation. They, as do the 13 soldiers that we honor today, epitomize the best of America.
The Army and Fort Hood are no strangers to pain and tragedy and loss. As many of us know personally and all too well, that's been the case for the last eight years. But we are an Army that has drawn strength from that adversity. So as we grieve as an Army family, as we wrap our arms around the families of our fallen comrades, I would say to you all: Grieve with us. Don't grieve for us. Those who have fallen did so in the service of their country. They freely answered the call to serve, and they gave their lives for something that they loved and believed in.
CONAN: The Army chief of staff was followed then by the president of the United States, Barack Obama, who spoke individually of each of the 13 men and women who fell at Fort Hood last week. He and his wife, the First Lady Michelle Obama, met earlier in the day with the families of those killed with the walking wounded. And after the ceremony was over, they went to the hospitals in the area to meet those 15 who are still unable to come to that ceremony because they're still in the hospital.
After he mentioned each of the killed by name and spoke a little bit about what they meant to themselves and to the armed services, the president said what they meant to the nation.
Pres. OBAMA: We are a nation that endures because of the courage of those who defend it. We saw that valor in those who braved bullets here at Fort Hood, just as surely as we see it in those who signed up knowing they would serve in harm's way.
We are a nation of laws whose commitment to justice is so enduring that we would treat a gunman and give him due process, just as surely as we will see that he pays for his crimes.
Were a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses. And instead of claiming God for our side, we remember Lincoln's words, and always pray to be on the side of God.
Were a nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal. We live that truth within our military and see it in the varied backgrounds of those we laid to rest today. We defend that truth at home and abroad. And we know that Americans will always be found on the side of liberty and equality. That's who we are as a people.
CONAN: It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy, the president said, but this much we do know: No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts.
Stay tuned to NPR News for more coverage of today's ceremony at Fort Hood and the investigation into the crime.
Thanks very much for listening. You've been listening to Special Coverage from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.