On Tuesday, Nidal Hasan, on trial for the Fort Hood attack and acting as his own attorney, grilled witnesses — including his former boss. The former Army psychiatrist is accused of killing 13 in the November 2009 horrific onslaught.
He declined, however, to cross-examine one particular victim–Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford. And, it is Sgt. Lunsford who provided the day’s most damning testimony. Lunsford, who was shot seven times during the attack, testified that on that day, he initially saw Hasan sitting in a chair with his arms on his knees while staring at the floor. All of a sudden, according to Lunsford, Hasan leaped out of the chair and ordered the one civilian in the room to leave. Following that, Hasan shouted, “Allahu akbar” and opening fire.
The panicked soldiers ran to a rear door, but the door was jammed.
At one point, Lunsford said he ran for the door, while Hasan was firing shots at the soldiers. When he turned around he saw that Hasan’s laser sight was pointed directly at him. Lunsford was then shot in the head, following which he momentarily played dead. He then decided to flee because, “dead men don’t sweat.” He made another attempt to reach the door but was shot six more times before being pulled to safety.
Now Alonzo Lunsford is blind in his left eye, half of his intestines have been surgically removed, he has difficulty walking and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in addition to sustaining a traumatic brain injury. Facial reconstruction is among the six surgical procedures Lunsford, a married father of five, has undergone. One bullet is still lodged in his back. The 22-year Army veteran retired because of his injuries.
Lunsford and his wife, Gheri Weston, have children ranging in age from 10 to 18. Lunsford believes he’s alive for a reason and is “not going to waste that.” He has also offered that he was angry upon learning he would never recover sight in his left eye, but has pointed out that, “there are soldiers out there who have it worse than me, and I can reach out and relate to them in a way I never could before I was shot.”
And, he takes this message of endurance to other wounded soldiers as a member of the Wounded Warriors project. He also enjoyed speaking at local schools. “He allows students to make a personal connection, to see that we all have fortitude inside of us if we are willing to tap into it,” Dawn Terry, assistant principal at Richmond Senior High School in Rockingham, N.C., said.
Ever since he was a child growing up in North Carolina, Lunsford knew he wanted to join the Army. His father was also in the military, prior to becoming a police officer. Because of his size (6’9″ and over 200 lbs.) he often felt it was his destiny to protect those smaller or weaker than he is. It haunts him that he was unable to do so on the day of the Fort Hood attack.
Whenever he starts to slip into despair, he recalls a visit from a little boy who came to see him in the hospital after he’d been shot. Bestowing a stack of drawings and a giant get-well card from his first-grade class, the boy “thanked me,” remembers Lunsford. “And then he stepped back and rendered the most perfect salute I have ever seen in my life.” He added: “It made me want to live. Someday I am going to put on my uniform and find him. And salute him right back.”
In November, Lunsford joined over 130 other victims and family members in a lawsuit, against the U.S. government, which seeks damages for deaths and injuries. The suit also contends that the military and FBI were aware that Hasan was a radical Muslim who supported jihad against the United States, but failed to take action.
The FBI has admitted to knowing about email exchanged between Hasan and Anwar Awlaki. Awlaki was an Al Qaeda operative in Yemen who was killed in a U.S. drone attack. An independent investigation revealed that the FBI and Pentagon took no action against Hasan even after co-workers described him as a “ticking time bomb” with terrorist sympathies.
It’s important to note that the lawsuit also seeks to have the Fort Hood attack designated as a terrorist attack instead of “workplace violence.” With the current designation victims are ineligible for certain benefits, such as those afforded to soldiers killed or wounded in combat (i.e. Purple Heart benefits).
Additionally, The Justice for Fort Hood Heroes and Little Rock Heroes Act has been introduced in the House and would ensure that the victims of the Fort Hood attack receive the same benefits as Purple Heart recipients, including combat-related special compensation.