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I’m not a horse racing fan, so maybe I’m missing something.

But I don’t get the outpouring of grief for a horse at the same time in American history when young men and women by the thousands are returning home from Iraq in flag-draped caskets or without arms and legs.

I understand how Barbaro was an inspiring sports story and that he dominated the Kentucky Derby before he shattered his leg in the second leg of the Triple Crown at the start of the Preakness.

But this isn’t the first time a horse had to be euthanized after a leg injury. From watching ESPN, you’d think Babe Ruth just died, judging by the tenor of the reports.

The next minute I’m watching MSNBC, and a long line of wounded soldiers, many of them limping along as they learn to walk with artificial limbs, took part in a ceremony to dedicate a new rehab center in San Antonio.

Am I wrong or is there more sympathy for a horse’s shattered leg than for shattered lives of wounded veterans without arms and legs?

My heart goes out to Dawn Halfaker, a Rancho Bernardo High basketball player who went on to play her college career at West Point. Lt. Halfaker lost an arm in Iraq while in command of a military police reconnaissance patrol in a Humvee that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

I think of Major David Rozelle, the first amputee who returned to combat in Iraq. He’s now a triathlete and spokesperson for Operation Rebound, a program through San Diego’s Challenged Athletes Foundation that reaches out to the military men and women returning home as amputees.

Major Rozelle has been instrumental in setting up rehab programs at Balboa Naval Hospital to handle the overflow of Camp Pendleton Marines returning home wounded.

The latest casualty numbers for American military personnel more than 3,100 dead and more than 22,000 wounded.

In Vietnam, 50,000-plus deaths and the draft sparked enough protests to end the war and end Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. Sadly, 3,100 deaths in an all-volunteer military don’t spark enough of a protest, even though those men and women have been sent into conflict by a second-term President and Vice-President who found away to avoid serving in Vietnam. They’ve asked thousands to do what they wouldn’t do in their young lives for an Iraq invasion which they ordered with dubious cause.

But since many of the 20,000 Iraq casualties are alive today because of advances in medical science that didn’t exist during Vietnam, maybe if you add some of those 20,000 casualties to the 3,100 dead it would equal a number that sparked more protests.

That or maybe another way to spark protests is to send our soldiers into battle riding a thoroughbred racehorse.

TOM SHANAHAN

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