orphans & outcasts

An Iraq War All His Own

Los Angeles Times
February 5, 2007
By Alex Tizon

OLYMPIA, Washington – The soldier stands in his living room eyeing all the cool soldier stuff he never got to use in a real fight. Like the helmet with not a single ding and the sleek body armor with not a scuff. The gear piles high on the carpet. First Lt. Ehren Watada is giving it all back and, out of courtesy, packing it up. The Army had treated him with the utmost respect until the moment it decided to court-martial him.

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Long Way From Home: Katrina Evacuee Lands In The Icy North

Los Angeles Times
March 7, 2006
By Alex Tizon

She didn’t know diaper wipes could freeze so fast. One moment they were a stack of moist towelettes, next they were an icy white brick. Patti Tobias had left her infant’s wipes in the back seat of the car on a morning when the temperature dipped to 7 degrees below zero. “Huh,” she said, inspecting the block and grinning. Her relatives in New Orleans would get a kick out of this.

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Stranded in the Sticks

Los Angeles Times
November 1, 2005
By Alex Tizon

GREENSBURG, Louisiana – At the end of a long gravel driveway, up a few steps on a wide wooden porch, a mother and son discuss their conundrum. Gladys Brown, 66, and Maurice Brown, 47, praise God for keeping them safe through the ordeal. But two months after Hurricane Katrina tore up their homes and chased them out of New Orleans, they find themselves resettled in a place to which they feel — mildly put — unsuited. Like catfish in a cornfield.

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“I Ain’t Ready”: A Katrina Survivor Eyes the Next Plunge

Los Angeles Times
October 15, 2005
By Alex Tizon

“I ain’t ready, I ain’t ready, I ain’t ready.”

The woman ambling down the corridor of Judson Baptist Church is talking to herself, not crazy but scared. More than a hundred Hurricane Katrina evacuees ended up in a church in Walker, Louisiana, a farming-town-turned-suburb west of Baton Rouge.

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Suddenly One Night

Los Angeles Times
April 30, 2005
By Alex Tizon

RENTON, Washington – It was a slab of particleboard, about 5 feet long, 18 inches wide and 1 1/2 inches thick. No one knew how far it had traveled or how many times it had bounced off the pavement. Late on Feb. 22, 2004, it was known only that it got loose on Interstate 405, near this Seattle suburb, and for a few moments became airborne. One witness later said it was simple physics that turned the board into a missile, hurtling north.

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Fingering The Wrong Man

Los Angeles Times
May 29, 2004
By Alex Tizon

For a single moment, all eyes were on the finger, left index, pale and slender as a flower stem. Brandon Mayfield held it up for all his family to see, and even he gazed at it with amazement. “It was this one,” he said. His wife, Mona, looked up from her dinner plate. His oldest child, Shane, 15, working on a computer behind the couch, craned his neck. The youngest one, Samir, 10, tinkering with his mother’s cellphone, glanced up. And Sharia, the only daughter, 12 years old and curled up on the couch, shifted her eyes to get a good look.

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The Forgotten War (Remembered)

The Seattle Times
June 25, 2000
By Alex Tizon

Gerald Foley, a crinkly-eyed, stooped-over old veteran, sips his latte at the local Starbucks, trying hard not to talk about the time he killed four men with a shovel. They were enemy soldiers who were trying to kill him. Foley won. He earned a Bronze Star. But he won’t talk about it right away. He must ease into it. And he must be cautious these days when talking about killing of any kind, even in the context of war, and especially in the context of an ambiguous war, which the Korean War most certainly was.

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Medal of Honor, 56 Years Late

The Seattle Times
May 28, 2000
By Alex Tizon

He was killed by a sniper’s bullet, his body found at the edge of a wheat field on the outskirts of a town named Castellina, Italy. He was still clutching the M-1 rifle he fired so relentlessly that Fourth of July afternoon 56 years ago. For more than a half-century his body has occupied a narrow plot at the Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery in Seattle, his birthplace, the hometown that never knew him.

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Thom Jones and the Cosmic Joke

The Seattle Times
April 12, 2000
By Alex Tizon

MAYBE THIS WAS something that happened to ex-janitors, one of their secret compulsions. Maybe it was an epileptic seizure. In any case, he could not resist. The floor needed sweeping, and the dust-sweeper was there, leaning against a wall, seductively, and before he could be stopped, Thom Jones was sweeping the floor and evidently liking it.

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Exodus From Kosovo

The Seattle Times
June 13, 1999
By Alex Tizon

The human body, even a small one, is all limbs sometimes. Or it seems that way when you need them least: long dangling bones that only get in the way. Such a thing was not meant to slip through the teeth of a barbed-wire fence, as one Kosovar mother learned while sneaking her son out of a refugee camp on the Albanian border. The boy bent his body as needed. Survival called for it.

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