A soldier in the same ambush as former POW Jessica Lynch was not killed in action but captured by Iraqi fighters and then executed, officials said.
The family of Sgt. Donald Walters, 33, of Salem — who had pressed officials for an investigation of their son’s death — learned the new information from the Oregon National Guard. Guard officials released the details to the public Thursday, more than a year after the March 23, 2003, ambush.
In March, the Army posthumously awarded Walters the Silver Star for gallantry with marked distinction. He also was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. This week, he was also awarded a POW medal.
The Pentagon investigated Walters’ death after his mother, Arlene, filed Freedom of Information requests, believing the Army had not given her son credit for actions first attributed to Lynch, such as fighting until his ammunition had run out.
Walters “was held separately from his fellow soldiers and killed while in custody,” according to a National Guard news release.
“He was executed — shot twice in the back,” Guard spokesman Maj. Arnold Strong said in a telephone interview Thursday. “An Iraqi ambulance driver witnessed six Fedayeen rebels standing outside a building guarding him while he was still alive. That same witness evacuated his dead body to a hospital.”
It was several hours between the time he was seen being led into the building and his body was brought out, the Guard said.
Investigators, Strong said, “have a pool of suspects,” presumed to be members of the Fedayeen paramilitary force who captured Walters. Lynch and others were taken captive by different Iraqi forces. Lynch was rescued from an Iraqi hospital April 1, 2003, while seven others captured in the ambush were freed 12 days later.
DNA matched with blood on wall
Defense investigators confirmed the account by matching Walters’ DNA to blood splatter on the wall where he was executed, Strong said. He died from two gunshot wounds to the back, fired from more than 20 feet away, according to Strong’s account of the investigation findings.
Walters’ fate drew attention because the details of his actions remarkably resemble a story circulated in the media, based on anonymous sources, describing how Lynch had fought until her ammunition ran out.
After her rescue, Lynch, of Palestine, W.Va., said she did not fire a shot. Her injuries resulted from a Humvee crash during the firefight in the Iraqi town of Nasiriyah, just days into the war.
“What upset me was they admitted it wasn’t Jessica Lynch, but they never bothered to find out who that soldier was,” Arlene Walters told reporters late Thursday.
Like Lynch, Donald Walters had blond hair. His family and others have said that early reports depicting a blond soldier bravely fighting off Iraqis may have been mistakenly attributed to Lynch, possibly because of an erroneous translation of Iraqi radio transmissions.
“Whether it was my son or any other one of those soldiers in the 507th, we needed to find out who it was that did this and give that person credit,” Arlene Walters told CBS’ “The Early Show” on Friday. “But it just so happened to be, I’m Donald’s mother, I thought it was him and I could fight for him.”
An Army report released last summer on the ambush of the 507th Army Maintenance Company said that Walters likely died in the fighting that left 10 other soldiers dead. The report said there were no American witnesses to his death.
The latest investigation found that in the chaotic opening moments of the ambush, Walters was separated from his unit. Other Americans last saw him running alone down a road, Arlene Walters said.
Empty gun magazines were found near where Walters was captured, suggesting he fired until ammunition ran out. Before his capture, he was shot in the leg and stabbed three times in the abdomen with a bayonet, Strong said, citing the report.
It was not clear whether Walters would have died from the bayonet wounds had he not been shot in captivity, Strong said.
Col. Brit P. Mallow, a Defense Department war crimes investigator, met with Walters’ family Tuesday in Salem. Mallow told Walters’ widow, Stacy Walters, in Kansas City, Mo., on Monday.
“We still feel the pain of losing a son we loved dearly,” said Walters’ father, Norman. “Now we know what happened. We are not relieved. We are extremely upset at what was done to him.”