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Hero's Widow Crusades for Troops

Eilhys England, the widow of the late highly decorated Army officer David Hackworth, never expected to run Soldiers for the Truth, a nonprofit advocacy group, alone. When Hackworth died from bladder cancer, everything changed “I promised David on his deathbed to keep the foundation going. Foolishly, but to my honor, I agreed,” England, an independent movie producer and screenwriter said.

Though the couple lived in New York City for a number of years, she knew they had to leave for David’s sake after walking through Central Park over ten years ago. “A car backfired and David jumped on me and rolled me under a bush,” she said. “When he finally got off of me I said to him, ‘Did you think that was gunfire from Vietnam?’” Pre-9/11, he told her that New York City was under terror alert and she decided that day that they were moving. Shortly thereafter, they found their home in Greenwich and she says she can’t imagine moving back.

Gesturing to various pieces of furniture and art in her sitting room England said, “What makes a home resonate and warm is having things that you can remember where you got them.” A key piece in the room was a Buddha statue given to her by the king of Thailand, who was the patient of her father, a physician. “David did not like Asian things, but he put up with it for me,” she said. “It was because of the memories of Vietnam.”

A captain in Korea and the youngest colonel in Vietnam, Hackworth won 91 medals over his career in the military, which was ended honorably after he criticized the war on national television in 1971.  “David was the golden boy until he came out against the war, but they were lying about everything,” said England. “He knew they would come after him, but he couldn’t live with himself anymore.”

England had created and run what became a top 50 marketing and PR agency in New York City before meeting David. After “kidnapping” her in the 1980s from an unhappy marriage, they collaborated by writing a column and several books together. In 1997, they started the foundation in a “mom and pop” style. When David died in 2005 the age of 74, she realized the foundation needed to become more established.

Soldiers for the Truth aims to ensure frontline troops have the best available leadership, training and especially equipment. The group identifies five critical pieces of combat gear—body armor, helmets, rifles, pistols and boots—that have proven to be sub-standard.

“These are the kids who have been protecting us since the Revolutionary War. It’s about time we protected them,” she said. In October 2009, through the efforts of Soldiers for the Truth and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY, and James Webb, D-Va., the Government Accountability Office issued a report to Congress, denouncing body armor given to troops after tests proved them faulty. The report was a major win for the foundation.

When asked how David would have reacted to the accomplishments the foundation has made, England said, “I think David would’ve said ‘atta girl.’ To accomplish that is everything.”

By December 2009, the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP filed a motion with the Washington, DC Federal Court through the Freedom of Information Act on behalf of England, for forensics records held by the Department of Defense. England says they’re waiting on the court’s ruling.

“If we have to appeal it, we’ll do it,” said England. “Whatever it takes.”

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