ARLINGTON, Va., May 16, 2006 -- Paula Zwillinger knew something awful had happened when she saw two military officers waiting in her driveway as she came home from work on June 6, 2005. The officers told her that her son had been hit by a roadside bomb in Fallujah and had died 17 hours later.
Watch an extended version of Jonathan Karl's interview here.
"They listed time of incident, time of death, injury suffered from an explosion from an IED," Zwillinger recalls. "I didn't know how he passed, I didn't know if there was anybody with him."
Zwillinger would know nothing about her son's final hours until months later, when HBO called to tell her about an upcoming documentary called "Baghdad ER."
It turns out that HBO was there in the Army hospital in Baghdad when Zwillinger's son, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Robert Mininger, was rushed in for treatment. Its cameras were rolling as the medics struggled to keep him alive.
Millions of Americans, she was told, would soon see the documentary "Baghdad ER," which includes an emotional finale in which her son dies on the operating table. The documentary airs Sunday night on HBO.
Its portrayal of wartime medicine is so painfully realistic that the Pentagon has warned soldiers and Marines who have served in Iraq, and their families, that it may trigger flashbacks, nightmares and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
HBO invited Zwillinger to screen the movie early, and to see the complete unedited footage of her son's final hours.
"I can only tell you I wanted to touch him, I wanted to reach out and touch him because you're really right there," Zwillinger told ABC News.
Painful as it is to watch, she calls the movie a blessing.
"To see him alive, moving, was wonderful," she says. "Having to come to terms with losing him and watching is something else, but literally it allowed me to be there with him in his final moments."
There have been some complaints that "Baghdad ER" is too graphic, too negative, but Zwillinger sees it differently.
"This is war, this is war, this is what people need to see," she says. "If they don't believe this is raw image, then they are not in reality.
"What does the public really see right now? The public sees a blurb on the second page of a newspaper, we're not even front page newspaper anymore. It's a little blurb saying 'two soldiers have lost their lives over in Baghdad' -- that's it. … You don't get the graphic reality of what war is about until you see the film. That's war, it's graphic, it's raw, it's authentic, it's real."