How a soldier found Tolkien to help heal his war wounds
Enraged, his knee and hands wrecked by shrapnel from the grenade that infamously disintegrated the hand of a Time writer, the 19-year-old private Jim Beverly lay in his hospital bed.
“It was almost like it was a personal insult that a guy would throw that grenade,” Beverly said.
Teeth were missing, bandages covered wounds from minor to devastating. His Kevlar vest and helmet undoubtedly saved his life, absorbing most of the pieces of metal that would have pierced a lung and skull. He still seethed as a 2003 casualty of the war in Iraq, recovering in Kaiserslautern, Germany away from what was left of his unit being profiled as part of Time Magazine naming the American Soldier the person of the year in 2003.
Michael Weisskopf, an embedded writer, became part of the story and the editorial team that chronicled the December attack:
“Shrapnel ricochets off the walls of the humvee, hitting Beverly,
Jenks and TIME photographer James Nachtwey. Smoke rises from the high-back. Blood pours from Weisskopf’s right arm; when he holds it up, he realizes the grenade has blown off his hand. Specialist Billie Grimes, a medic attached to the platoon, sprints out of the third humvee and hoists herself onto the high-back. She uses a Velcro strap tied to her pant leg as a tourniquet to stop Weisskopf’s bleeding and applies a field dressing to the wound while loudly asking the three other passengers if they are injured. Nachtwey, who has taken shrapnel in his left arm, abdomen and both legs, briefly snaps pictures of Grimes treating Weisskopf before losing consciousness.
Weisskopf would eventually write a book about his recovery. Beverly (of Akron, Ohio) was immediately speaking with a psychologist after suffering significant injuries in combat – the kind that lead to post traumatic stress disorder. Beverly said the army wanted to get started early.
For several seconds Jenks slumps motionless, stunned, but then instinctively slides his gun’s safety to semiautomatic, preparing to return fire. Only later does he learn that shrapnel has fractured his leg.
The convoy halts in front of the mosque. Buxton turns around. “Are there any casualties?” he asks. “Yes! Yes!” replies Beverly. Shrapnel has hit him in the right hand and right knee. Two of his front teeth have been knocked out, and his tongue is lacerated. “Let’s go!” he says. “Let’s go!” The humvees peel out and roar for home.
Read more at Time.
It was noted later in the Time article that even in post-surgery intensive care in Baghdad a Lord of the Rings DVD played on Beverly’s laptop. A long-time reader of fantasy and familiar with interpretations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world by Peter Jackson and Ralph Bakshi, Beverly’s doctor asked him what one thing he needed the most.
“Something to read.”
Knowing the soldier had enjoyed The Hobbit during artillery school, the doctor had something in mind.
“As part of his treatment plan,” Beverly told TheOneRing.net in Atlanta at the 2011 DragonCon, “He brought his personal copies of the Lord of the Rings to me.
“He told me, ‘This is not a loan, it is a gift’ “
“They spoke to me. They had elements that I was dealing with at the same time. Hope and dread, adversity, perseverance and an overwhelming enemy.”
Tolkien’s account of war, with a genesis in his own experience in the terrible Battle of the Somme, “absolutely” aided the young Beverly, several decades after they were written, in his own recovery. He finished the book during his twelve days in the hospital in Kaiserslautern, where he will return in a few weeks to carry on his service. This time as a pharmacist.
“It helped me ground myself and gave me escape,” he said. “It was a fun, engaging, intelligent story in a genre that I already loved.”
The matured version of Beverly, who volunteered to help TORn with its “Gandalf World Tour” fan initiative, bears some of the scars from his tour in Iraq where he never expected to find combat. Dental work gives him an easy smile but his hands bear the marks that are easiest to see. His knee, covered by long pants, still carries bits from the day of the explosion and its condition prevents him from running or standing for long periods and he has some early early-onset arthritis.
If Tolkien gets credit for helping the soldier, who never expected to face combat, to overcome his mental and physical wounds, some credit must go to his wife Holly Holt, a nearly life-long Tolkien enthusiast.
Together they accepted the task of getting the European Gandalf statue across the Atlantic Ocean after they make a brief detour to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the intellectual center of the U.S. Army. It seems a fitting place for the pair who love to put their imaginations to work and find common recreational ground in tabletop gaming.
She describes her relationship with Beverly as “A mutual appreciation of all things nerdy.” They “hung” and “dated” and finally made their partnership a permanent one in 2009. She grew up reading Dean Koontz and devoured The Hobbit in a day when it was introduced to her. The mutual love for Tolkien “sweetened the punch.”
“LOTR was something that helped me recover initially, but it’s continued to be something that’s helped me reflect and connect with both my wife and our friends, mostly the gaming group. Lord Of The Rings Online has taken this even further, and probably enriched my love for LOTR lore, both in that I can play and keep in touch with my LOTRO friends, as well as experience the story and spirit of Middle Earth in a directly participatory role.
Together they have maxed out their character levels on Lord of the Rings Online and have a tight-night group of game players. They recently discovered TORn through The Hobbit in 5 and attended DragonCon panels on The Hobbit, making the in-person connection needed to get Gandalf across the ocean. While he told his story in the waning moments of the convention as a weekend’s worth of revelers began returning home, he didn’t display even a glimpse of emotion about the life-changing violence and injuries he experienced. The same can’t be said of the journalist who has heard hundreds of personal accounts of how Tolkien’s writings made a difference in real life and yet none quite like this one.
In 2003 he told Time: “You’ve always got to expect the worst, and I’m glad that’s not what happened.”
In 2011, it seemed pretty far from that.
(TORn staff member Greendragon contributed photos to this report.)