Read the story of Iraq war veteran Sgt. Walt Gaya here.
There was Walt Gaya, from Argentina originally, but proudly serving in the American Army. A photographer who plans to study photojournalism when he gets home, Walt had taught me some important things about photography. But the first thing I learned is that he doesn’t like digital cameras. Doesn’t like the quality. Walt shoots in black and white, with this little Leica film camera that costs more than some fishing boats.
Walt’s eyes serve him well as a sniper, and though some people call enemy snipers cowards, anyone who knows anything about war knows that it takes guts to be a sniper, no matter what team you are on. I get the strange feeling that he’ll become a great photojournalist, if he survives the war. But for now, something bigger than the future holds him here.
Walt doesn’t talk about it, but the first thing to draw the eye in his room is the small shrine he keeps for his roommate, “Plum,” who was killed in battle. Walt misses Plum immensely.
The Recon platoon is comprised mostly of young men. Combat has padded the age of most of these veterans, although you wouldn’t know it from the ferocity of the fight still in them. Along with Plum, they lost another buddy, Benjamin “Rat” Morton, who was killed on a raid not long ago. In fact, of fifteen snipers in the company, five have been killed, and nearly all the rest have been wounded.
Walt is one of 11 Deuce-Four soldiers scheduled to receive their US citizenship in a ceremony in Baghdad on 25 July. This long and bureaucratic process will allow some of our soldiers fighting for Iraq and the United States to become American citizens, and partake in the democratic process and freedoms that allow people like me to roam the planet and write.
While the sun was still rising into the day, I made an appointment to see Walt later that night to look at some of his new black and white prints. When we said goodbye, neither knew that he would not return from his mission that night.
Read the whole thing – and then read below and find out why Gaya needs our help:
The attack had also upturned other parts of his life. The Argentina-born immigrant, who moved to the United States as a child, was injured just eight days before he was to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen in a ceremony in Iraq.
Now, he’s in a bureaucratic black hole: Federal immigration officials wouldn’t renew his permanent resident card or tell him when he could reschedule the swearing-in ceremony. No one at the local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office could tell him what to do next to get his citizenship papers, or even how to renew his immigration documents.
One day, as he was moving furniture at Fort Lewis, he found a copy of an old newspaper with a photograph of soldiers at the citizenship ceremony in Iraq that he had missed.
He tossed it aside and kept working.
Hat tip: ST reader Stoo, who I am hereby affectionately labelling “da man” (since the “darling Stoo” label has already been taken by Sondra K.