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Pho to by Bill Le issne r the day of our meeting. The most common peasant background and a complete lack of formal education fail to conceal, in this wiry, blue-eyed Central American farmer, a hard native intelligence and integrity. “The army attacked for no reason, por gusto,” Valle said. Houses were destroyed, people were killed and injured, then the army came into the village, “shooting at people who could not leave. Two-hundred-fifty of the survivors decided while they were leaving the village to emigrate to Honduras where they might live in safety in a border camp. On the 29th of August, after two months on the road and as the Valle family and some 250 displaced persons crossed the Guanzinga River in the Department of Chalatenango in northern El Salvador, they were caught in another army attack. “There were bombs, automatic rifles, machine-guns, everything that could be imagined,” Valle said. Forty of the 200 were killed and Johnny Valle, who since June had been carried in his hammock because he was unable to walk, was separated from his family. “We were unarmed, many with children carried on our backs,” Antonio Valle said, “when the soldiers began shooting. All we could do was flee.” The other four children followed their mother to safety but the oldest, Johnny, unable to walk, was lost in the confusion. Three years later, in January of 1987, a letter arrived at the Mesas Verdes refugee camp in Honduras. Their son, the Valles were informed, Marcos Johnny Valle was alive. So the family began yet another peregrination, this time to the Fe de Esperanza refugee camp, located in San Salvador and operated by the Lutheran Church. A neighbor from the village in Cabanas had carried the child away from the Guanzinga River and back to San Salvador. She also continued to care for the child’s wounds until they reached the safety of the church-run camp. There, Johnny Valle’s original wounds were treated in a primitive clinic. And it was also there that Johnny Valle was selected as a candidate for Medical Aid to El Salvador’s Children’s Project, by which wounded Salvadoran children are flown to the United States for treatment in North American hospitals. For five years, Medical Aid for El Salvador, a Los Angeles based, nonprofit relief agency, has worked with the Archdiocese of San Salvador. Their Children’s Project is a pilot program. Before Johnny Valle would leave for Austin, the family spent two weeks together in San Salvador, after three years of separation. On October 19, Johnny and Antonio Valle arrived to confront the local news media at Austin’s Robert Mueller Airport. A week later, Dr. James Hood performed a surgical procedure that will retard the growth of the child’s uninjured left leg, so that when he reaches adulthood, both legs will be of nearly equal length. The hip joint replacement, that Seton Hospital had perhaps too enthusiastically announced would be performed, was determined to be too great a risk. “He still has metal fragments in his muscle,” Hood said. “And when these fragments entered they carried bacteria with them. If we replace his hip and disturb the bacteria, and that replacement results in an infection, that joint would be doomed.” Hood, after seeing preliminary x-rays from El Salvador, had considered a hip fusion to provide a stable hip joint. When he examined Johnny Valle, he found that the hip had already become fused as a result of the injury without the benefit of the proper alignment of the joint that would have been a part of the surgery. When his convalescence is completed, Johnny Valle, with his father, will return to El Salvador. There, they will move to a repoblacion near their abandoned village, a resettlement community organized by a group of churches. No schools are functioning in rural northwestern El Salvador. If Marcos Johnny Valle’s leg heals as planned, he will return to work beside his father, “cultivando la tierra.” IT SHOULD BE no surprise that a State Department that makes no apology for Elliot Abrams has steadfastly opposed Medical Aid to El Salvador’s Children’s Program. Through it, the chickens of American policy, in a small way, come home to roost. There is, in the sad spectacle of injured and disfigured children, an indictment of a government and war supported by American tax dollars. And there is an educational component to this project. At an Austin fundraising gathering for the Children’s Project, Doctor Paula Rogee described, to a gathering of 100, the nature and circumstances of Johnny Valle’s wounds. Then writer/humorist John Henry Faulk pleaded with those present to be generous. “And,” he said, “let us also make this child a symbol of all the children injured in these senseless wars. Let’s rally around this little boy and send a message to Ronnie Reagan that we don’t support his wars.” This is precisely the type of public criticism the State Department hoped to avoid by derailing the program. Executive Director Mario Velazquez said that at least 15 sympathetic members of the U.S. House and Senate \(including Reps. Norman Mineta and David Bonier and Senators Paul Simon, Tom Harkin and the program through the State Department’s discouraging and often openly defiant procedures. One program volunteer told how visas were denied several of the children only days before the plane carrying them to Los Angeles was scheduled to depart. State Department officials in San Salvador demanded, late in the day, to speak to the surgeons in several of the East Coast cities where children were to be treated. If the doctors could not be reached by telephone before the day’s end, program officials were informed, visas for the children in question would be cancelled. Program director Velazquez would not confirm this particular incident. But he said that working with the State Department had been very trying. And the number of children originally announced at 20 was reduced to 12. One of the children, who had been badly burned by white phosphorous sticks used to mark targets, died of leukemia unrelated to his injury while waiting to travel to the U.S., Velazquez said. In Austin, Frank Cooksey , a mayor with more integrity than opponents and he’s beswarmed with opponents argued that caring for children should transcend politics. “We do some things,” Cooksey said at a fundraiser held in his home, “simply because they’re the right thing to do. This is one of them.” Supporters of the Children’s Project are counting on the initial success of the program as an argument in favor of its continued growth. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17