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Circus Clowns Visit Children, Wounded Soldiers at Walter Reed

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 10, 2003 – The circus came to town and the clowns went to see a very special audience at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on April 9.

On a visit from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, they stopped in to see soldiers wounded in Iraq being treated at the well-known military hospital.

While at there, the clowns also put on a special performance in the pediatrics childcare room to the delight of the children, parents and caretakers.

While some of the wounded soldiers didn't want their pictures taken with the clowns, Army Sgt. Eric R. Torres jumped at the chance.

After they clowned around with him, Torres said, "They were an entertaining sight. It put a smile on my face."

Torres, of Gulf Breeze, Fla., went to Iraq March 19 as a forward observer with the 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery, Fort Stewart, Ga. He was attached to C Troop, 1st Cavalry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division.

"I was shot in the (right) leg on March 22nd in Iraq," Torres said. "I'd been in country four days working as a forward observer locating the enemy. I had the ability to call in air strikes, but didn't have a chance to do it."

He was first treated by the unit's two medics, then taken to an Army medical facility in Kuwait City. Torres was then medivaced to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany before being sent to Walter Reed.

"I'd love to go back and join my unit again, but I can't," Torres said, looking at his wound.

He said he joined the Army in March 2000 "to serve my country to do what I just did." He noted he'd decide later on whether he'll "make a career of it."

An American flag was attached to his pajamas with a big safety pin. "A buddy pinned this flag on my before I left for Kuwait City," Torres explained.

Since the wounded service members couldn't attend the free Military Appreciation Night circus performance in Washington, the clowns came to them, said Frank Strong, a public relations consultant working with the circus.

Their visit was arranged by the Fisher House Foundation, which has two guesthouses at Walter Reed, one on the center's grounds and another at the Forest Glen section in nearby Silver Spring, Md.

The clowns were Cezary Skarzynski, Danise Payne, Gregory Parks, Endre Picard and Steve Copeland.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. Eric R. Torres, who was shot in his right leg four days after arriving in Iraq, said he'd love to return to his unit. The American flag pinned to his pajamas was given to him by a buddy before he left Iraq. He's being treated at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Photo by Rudi Williams   
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Click photo for screen-resolution image"They put a smile on my face," Army Sgt. Eric R. Torres said after the clowns from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus left his room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Torres is being treated for a leg wound he suffered in Iraq. Photo by Rudi Williams   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRingling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus clown Cezary Skarzynski clowns around with Isaiah Cofield, 22 months old, in the childcare room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Five clowns visited the pediatrics department, then visited to chat with soldiers being treated for wounds suffered in Iraq. Photo by Rudi Williams   
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