Iraq vet, talk show pioneer pair for anti-war film

Tue May 6, 2008 8:06am EDT
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Phil Donahue met thousands of intriguing people during three decades as a top TV talk show host, but it was an inert Iraq war veteran in a hospital bed that led him to the most compelling story in his life.

"I met Tomas at Walter Reed and he wasn't communicating anything," Donahue remembers of his visit to the Washington DC military hospital. "He didn't meet me, I met him. He was totally medicated. As I stood next to his bed, his mother explained the gravity of his injuries."

U.S. Army soldier Tomas Young was paralyzed from the chest down at 25 years of age after a bullet pierced his spine in his first week serving in Iraq. Donahue, now 72, couldn't get Young out of his head and set the wheels in motion to make his first documentary, "Body of War," now showing in U.S. theaters.

Donahue and filmmaker Ellen Spiro tell in graphic detail the challenges of the young man in his wheelchair -- his pain, frustration and difficulties managing bodily functions. One scene shows his mother inserting a catheter so he can urinate on a road trip.

But Donahue and Spiro don't stop at the physical aspects of Young's life. They follow the veteran's conversion into an anti-war activist as he goes on the TV news magazine "60 Minutes" and addresses church and veterans groups across the United States.

Even when he could hardly finish sentences, Young quipped "Soldiers voting for President Bush is like chickens voting for Colonel Sanders." With statements like that, Donahue and Spiro knew they had a star.

"This is a huge sacrifice," Donahue told Reuters ahead of the Los Angeles premiere. "This man can't walk. You know, prime of life and we don't see this. And I just think it is wrong. If you are going to send people, we have the responsibility to show the sacrifice that is being made."

'HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?'   Continued...

<p>Phil Donahue, co-director of the documentary film "Body of War", gestures during an interview in Beverly Hills, California April 23, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>