War Claims Fingers Of Arverne Resident
A 2001 Beach Channel High School graduate with family in Arverne is in a military field hospital in Iraq this week, unsure of how many fingers remain on his right hand.
Andre-Erik Gatson, 20, was injured last Sunday when insurgents armed with a crude explosive device attacked the 10-vehicle fuel convoy he was guarding in Bayji, north of Tikrit. Gatson was manning a machine gun at the back of a HUMVEE, the last vehicle in the convoy, when the explosion killed his driver, knocked him unconscious and sent shrapnel through his right hand. When Gatson came to, he had the presence of mind to apply a bandage to slow the bleeding.
“We’ve received very sketchy information from the Army so far,” said Gatson’s father, Andre, who lives with his wife Sharon, and teenage daughter Espirit on Beach 30 Street in Arverne. Andre was told only that his son’s right middle finger was split in the attack. “I think they try to spirit the family with the information,” he said.
The conversations between father and son, meanwhile, are sobering. Andre called his son to find out his prognosis, to see if he was OK, to find out about his son’s injured finger.
“He said, ‘No dad, it’s two or three [fingers],’” Andre told The Wave.
The Gatson’s, thousands of miles away from their only son during his time of personal tragedy, are wrought with two emotions: relief that their son’s life was spared; saddened that he was maimed. Newspapers and television did nothing to prepare them.
“You don’t get the real tragedy behind the word ‘wounded,’” Andre explained.
Gatson is in the 67th Combat Support Hospital in Tikrit, happy to be alive, mourning the loss of the driver, who was a friend, and awaiting airlift to a medical center in Germany, where he will undergo surgery, receive physical therapy and be reunited with his fiancée, Sonja.
Germany was supposed to be the place where the young soldier started a new life, and it still may be. Gatson, who took to architecture and computers at Beach Channel, had plans of marrying and working for the military in Germany, as a civilian.
A message on the online web log “Bayji Iraq Camp Summerall Soldiers,” contains a message of love from Sonja: “To my fiancé Andre Gatson, Hey babe, I love you with all my heart and you are always on my mind! I pray for your safe return. I miss you so bad and I can’t wait for your safe return.”
Andre expects that his son will receive a medical discharge, but isn’t sure which direction his life will take in the months and years to come.
Gatson enlisted in the United States Army shortly after graduating from Beach Channel – three weeks before the terrorist attacks of September 11. He was stationed in Iraq in February of this year as an artilleryman attached to the First Infantry Division and was expected to finish his tour of duty by summer 2005.