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Monday, August 9

Iraq vet boiling over `Fahrenheit' cameo

By Gina Cavallaro | Army Times

There are a lot of things Sgt. Peter Damon doesn't like about ``Fahrenheit 9/11.''

But what he likes least about the controversial new film by left-wing provocateur Michael Moore is the fact that he's in it.

``What really makes me mad is that people get the impression that I agree with it,'' said Damon, 31, a helicopter mechanic who lost both arms in an accident in Iraq last year.

He first learned of his cameo appearance in the movie from passersby at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where he spends the majority of his time in rehabilitation therapy.

``People started coming up to me and telling me they had seen me in the movie. At first I thought it was a mistake. Some even said congratulations for taking a stand against the war,'' Damon said.

``I volunteered to go, I wanted to go. I believe we should be in Iraq,'' he said.

``I was really embarrassed and ashamed to be in a theater where people were laughing and clapping about Moore making fun of President Bush.''

The movie is a compilation of hundreds of video images and mostly undated interviews used to piece together Moore's theory about why President Bush opted to wage war against Iraq.

Dozens of clips include images of government officials, soldiers and wounded and dead Iraqis and are juxtaposed with an ongoing narrative that weaves together Moore's case against the war.

The scene with Damon and other amputees at Walter Reed comes more than halfway through the movie. It's a piece of an interview the soldiers had on network television.

In it, Damon is seen sitting on a gurney just before going into surgery. The remains of his arms are swathed in heavy bandages, and he is describing phantom-limb sensation and the phantom crushing pain that doctors have relieved with a steady flow of anesthesia into each limb.

The original Oct. 31 interview with NBC Nightly News was about the anesthesia and the work being done at the hospital with other amputee soldiers. Damon and his anesthesiologists considered it a positive piece that showcased the hard work being done for wounded soldiers.

But, Damon notes, the 10-second clip in ``Fahrenheit 9/11'' is sandwiched into a segment of the movie that describes the supposed plight of hapless soldiers sent to Iraq, many of whom, Moore asserts, have joined the Army to escape poverty.

``For this guy to put me in a movie and say, `Look at all these poor fellows,' it makes us look like we all came from the same background as the people in Flint, Michigan,'' Damon said. A previous Moore film, "Roger and Me," portrayed economic blight in Flint after a series of General Motors factory closings.

Damon believes this portrayal couldn't be further from the truth - at least in his case.

He grew up in Brockton, Mass., in a working class neighborhood south of Boston where, he says, paychecks are hard won and families close knit.

His late father worked for a boat maker, and his mother is a bookkeeper.

Damon, an electrician by trade, joined the Massachusetts National Guard in March 2000 with an eye toward starting a career in aviation, something he had always been interested in. With a young daughter at home, he chose National Guard service over active duty because of the less demanding time requirement.

Right after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Damon, who was assigned to the 126th Aviation Regiment, spent a year at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he repaired and maintained Chinook helicopters.

On March 20, 2003, the day after the war began in Iraq, Damon was called up and served at an airfield in Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad.

Then, on Oct. 21, he and Pfc. Paul Bueche were changing a tire during phase maintenance on a Black Hawk helicopter when the wheel's split rim exploded, killing Bueche and wounding Damon.

The NBC interview took place about a week later.

``No one said (the interview) could be twisted,'' Damon said, adding that, unlike politicians who willingly go into the spotlight, ``being part of the government doesn't make me a figure for everyone to pick apart.''

A spokeswoman at NBC News explained the company's policy of making news footage available for use in the public domain.

``As all news organizations do, NBC News does license footage that has already aired on NBC programs. As a general rule, most news organizations, including NBC News, do not obtain releases from people who appear on our news programs. When we do license footage - as in this instance - NBC includes a provision that it is the responsibility of the licensee, not NBC, to obtain all required consents and releases necessary to use the footage,'' the spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

Damon said Moore never contacted him for such a release.

Although there are reports that other soldiers who appeared in ``Fahrenheit 9/11'' are threatening legal action against Moore, Damon says he hasn't jumped on that bandwagon just yet.

The sergeant, who is astonished at his own positive attitude about having lost both arms, points out that no action he takes will alter the challenges he faces. He would, however, like to challenge Moore to do right by the soldiers he featured in his blockbuster film.

``I'm not about to sue anybody,'' he said.

``If anything, I'd like to see (Moore) throw some money toward a veterans charity,'' Damon said. ``He claims to be a champion of soldiers, but I haven't seen him do anything for us.''

``Fahrenheit 9/11'' so far has grossed more than $100 million and garnered the best picture award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Repeated attempts to reach Moore were unsuccessful. However, associate producer Joanne Doroshow said that the movie has been donated for use at benefits to raise money for organizations such as Veterans Against the War in Iraq and Military Families Speak Out, another antiwar group.

``Michael does have concern for the soldiers who are in the film and who were put in harm's way in Iraq,'' Doroshow said.

She said the ``soul of the movie is meant to portray the way many individuals were put in an impossible situation, and the purpose of the film is to raise questions about why they were sent there and the decision of this administration to place them in Iraq.''

Moore and Doroshow have each won Oscars for documentaries - he for ``Bowling for Columbine'' in 2003, and she for ``Panama Deception'' in 1992. Each as a regular practice uses licensed material, including news footage such as that of Damon.

Moore's Web site has a link to sites where people can go to help soldiers, including one through which Moore offers to send one of his own books to any soldier currently serving in Iraq.

These links are followed by more links to sites where donations can be made to Fisher House, a public-private partnership that supports sick veterans and their families. There also is a wounded heroes page, and there are links to sites to donate books, groceries, phone cards and airline mileage to soldiers, as well as a link to the Red Cross and one for health kits for Iraqi children.

Still, Damon is angry.

``Just the whole thought of being in this piece of propaganda. It's like a documentary Hitler would have made.

``You know when you join the military that there's an inherent risk,'' Damon said.

``I was doing my job the same as any guy in a foxhole was doing his. I don't blame this on anybody. It was an unfortunate accident.''