Tora Bora, Afghanistan - Terri Schiavo, the 41-year-old Florida woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state for the past 15 years, died today in these rugged mountains located in central Asia. Schiavo was an unexpected addition to a US special operations unit whose mission was the capture or elimination of Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and the man suspected of masterminding the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC.
A part of an elite eight-person unit - whose composition and mission details are classified - Schiavo parachuted into hostile territory in the cold, pre-dawn hours. Strapped into a specially designed hospital bed, Schiavo was pushed out of the rear bay of a C-130 transport plane. According to an anonymous Pentagon source, Schiavo's parachute failed to open - as did the drone chute affixed to her bed. Due to her critical role in the mission, Terri's death forced a scrub of the operation.
Danzer - the code name of a member of Terri's unit - offered this account of her final hours and mission. [Many of the details have been omitted or changed at the Pentagon's direction to preserve operational security.] "We knew that this was going to be a big operation," explained Danzer, "because Chief told us we'd be getting a new specialist from State-side. You bet we were amazed when we saw them roll Turtle's [Terri's code name] bed into the hanger where we were prepping our gear.
"Chief explained Turtle's role on the mission - I can't give any details, but I can say it was pretty amazing stuff that they had cooked up, real amazing stuff. At 0300 it was wheels up and we were underway. Turtle didn't say a word, she just looked off in the distance like she was thinking real hard about what this mission was going to mean to America.
"At 0425 we were at the target zone and the team geared up and the rear gate slowly lowered. Chief and Mongoose rolled Turtle's bed to the edge of the gate and seemed to be double-checking the webbing on her gear and chute. They looked across Turtle, saluted, and pushed the bed out into the dark. Right away though you could tell something was wrong.
"Chief and Mongoose both started yelling into their radios, ‘pull the red handle! pull the red handle', but I guess she ran into a problem because next think I know that gate is going up, Chief is yell ‘abort', and the plane is banking hard. I still don't know who she was, but I can say that Turtle gave her all for her country."
Schiavo's husband Michael - and parents, Bob and Mary Schindler - have been locked in a protracted legal battle over the Terri's fate. They were however, able to agree that fighting terrorism was something that was very important to Terri and that had she been able to speak, she would have volunteered for this mission on her own.
"Terri loved this country," said her distraught father, "and I know that she went to her grave happy knowing she was doing her part to make America safer. I'm just glad that we could come to an agreement with Michael on giving Terri this wonderful opportunity to serve."
Disability advocates weren't so positive in their assessment of the situation. Emile LaBlanc, the North American director of People for the Ethical Treatment of the Permanently Vegetative (PETPV) released the following comments in a statement to the media:
"Terri has led a difficult life for many years. While we don't contest her patriotism of the rightness of her mission, we wish that she had not died in the cause of war but rather in the cause of peace. Terri desired to do so many things in her life - visit the Titanic, walk on the moon or perform a surgery. We only wish that a means had been found to allow her to fulfill one of these peaceful dreams."
Michael Schiavo had this to say upon learning of his wife's death. "Terri was a true American hero and a true friend. As sorry as I am for this tragic lose, I think we can all take solace in the fact the Terri didn't let tragedy stand in the way of her making a difference."