Wife says soldier didn't have to die

Husband, father was waiting for treatment

Confined to his quarters in Iskandariya, Iraq, coughing and having tingling in his fingers and toes, Sgt. John F. Burner III had a video conference with his wife in Grovetown around 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 15.

"They told him they were not set up to give him the necessary tests that he needed, and told him to come back on Friday," Verena Burner said.

On that Friday, though, when medical equipment finally caught up with Burner's unit -- then moving into Iskandariya, south of Baghdad -- it was too late.

An hour after she talked to him, the 32-year-old father of two was dead, and Verena Burner is not going to let the Army forget.

"I don't want this to be swept under the rug," she said Tuesday. "This does not have to happen. They should have been set up."

Left with their two daughters, 10-year-old Celina and 6-year-old Caitlyn, Burner questioned why her husband didn't receive the prompt medical care that injured soldiers typically get.

John Burner had been deployed only three weeks earlier, and apparently had taken ill during a training stop in Kuwait. He had seen a doctor in Baghdad, who prescribed him antibiotics and cold medicine.

Instead of keeping him there, near a hospital, the Army ordered him to move on with the unit to Iskandariya, she said.

"To me, that's unacceptable. You should just keep him there," his widow said.

It came as a shock to learn that her seemingly healthy husband, whose only known diagnosis was high blood pressure, would fall ill and die within days in Iraq.

He had had pneumonia in April, but recovered and was cleared by Army doctors for deployment in August, she said.

"It would ease my mind a little bit if I knew what he had," she said. "Not knowing is the worst. Respiratory infection is not going to be good enough."

She can't get answers, either from the Army's criminal investigations division or her husband's unit, which hasn't even sent a sympathy card. The results of an autopsy might not be available for up to six months, she said.

"It seems like nobody really cares," he told her during their final conversation, when he was confined to quarters and few checked on him.

Verena Burner had been so concerned that afternoon that she contacted her mother-in-law in Baltimore, who agreed to contact her congressman and the Red Cross the next day.

Their young daughters ask "a lot of questions" but seem to be getting along, with help from frequent visits with a school counselor, she said.

The family will travel next month to Arlington National Cemetery, where the sergeant will be buried with military honors Oct. 13.

Reached Tuesday, Army public affairs officials did not respond to requests for comment.

At Fort Gordon, where Burner was stationed, Public Affairs Assistant Mercedes Ballard-White said the incident was still under investigation.

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