Fact Check

Bush Prays with Special Forces Soldier

Did President Bush pray with an injured Special Forces soldier at Walter Reed Medical Center?

Published May 31, 2003

Claim:   President Bush prayed with an injured Special Forces soldier at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Status:   PArtly true.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2003]

At a recent Soldiers Breakfast held at Redstone Arsenal, AL, Sergeant Major of the Army Jack Tilley shared the following story. (The vignette was captured by James Henderson, Association of the U. S. Army Redstone Huntsville Chapter Chaplain. Please distribute far and wide . . . it is worth sharing!!)

He (SMA Jack Tilley) described one such recent visit to our wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington that I (Chaplain Henderson) will never forget.

The Special Forces soldier had lost his right hand and suffered severe wounds of his face and side of his body. As SMA Tilley described, how do you honor such a soldier, showing respect without offending? What can you say or do in such a situation that will encourage and uplift? How do you shake the right hand of a soldier who just lost his? Finally he told how he acted as though the man had a hand, taking his wrist as though it were his hand and speaking encouragement to him.

But he said there was another man in that group of visitors who had even brought his wife with him to visit the wounded who knew exactly what to do. This man reverently took this soldier's stump of a hand in both of his hands, bowed at the bedside and prayed for him. When he stood from praying he bent over and kissed the man on the head and told him he loved him.

What a powerful expression of love for one our wounded heroes! And what a beautiful Christ-like example! What kind of man would kneel in such humility and submission to the Living God of the Bible?

It was George W. Bush, President of the United States and Commander in Chief of our Armed forces, a man who understands and follows his chain of command, a leader God has given us.

Origins:   On 12 April 2003 the President and First Lady did pay a call upon injured servicemen being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National

Naval Medical Center. Bush awarded ten Purple Hearts, the military's honor for those wounded in combat, and participated in ceremonies in which two injured soldiers — one from Mexico and the other from the Philippines — were naturalized as U.S. citizens. He also visited with a number of servicemen undergoing treatment in those two facilities, including Marine Sgt. Eric Alva of San Antonio and Navy Corpsman Brian Alaniz of Austin, both of whom lost their right legs in the conflict with Iraq. (Alva stepped out of a Humvee and onto a mine; Alaniz stepped on another mine while rushing to help Alva.)

Aides who accompanied the President on the tour of the two hospitals report that he distributed his thanks and pride — and a few jokes — in every room, but none of the press reports about the visit mentioned the President's praying with any of these wounded men (although that would not necessarily have been out of character for him).

According to MSG Richard Puckett of the Sergeant Major of the Army's (SMA) office, the gist of the story is true, but the detail about the President's praying with a wounded soldier is an embellishment:

For the past several months the Sergeant Major of the Army has been speaking to groups about his visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals to see soldiers injured in Afghanistan and Iraq. The story involves the SMA and a visit by the President of the United States. The SMA and the President have never visited soldiers at the hospital together. The SMA's story of President Bush's visit to one particular soldier was relayed to him by one of the Special Forces soldiers in the hospital that day.

On one visit he spoke to a young special forces soldier who lost his hand in an accident involving a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. As he was leaving, the soldier stuck his limb to the SMA and SMA Tilley gingerly shook the bandages to not injure him further. He presented him a coin and said "God Bless You."

The same soldier was visited several days later by the President, who was awarding medals to many of the wounded soldiers. The soldier stuck his limb up to the President as he was leaving, and President Bush cupped his limb with both hands and said "God Bless You." He then knelt down and kissed him on the forehead.

The story that is spreading around the internet is a well-woven embellishment of the SMA's story.

MSG Richard Puckett
Public Affairs Advisor to the Sergeant Major of the Army
Office of the Sergeant Major of the Army

Last updated:   13 August 2007


  Sources Sources:

    Martin, Gary.   "President Pays a Call on Wounded."

    San Antonio Express-News.   12 April 2003   (p. A10).

    Roth, Bennett.   "America at War: Hospital Calls."

    The Houston Chronicle.   12 April 2003   (p. A24).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.