Saturday, June 28, 2003

Poems, Murder, IEDs and Bullets for Breakfast

28 June, 2003 2315

Every smile and every tear
Every touch and every song we sing
Walking hand and hand on the pier
All cuddled up in this precious thing

All our nights of longing
Every letter the postman brings
Nights of knowing belonging
All cuddled up in this precious thing

Flugzeug im Bauch
You riding on my back laughing
You tickle me till I shout
All cuddled up in this precious thing

Screaming to the sky longing for you
Walking by your side is better than dreaming
Kissing you sweetly, closing the door to our room
All cuddled up in this precious thing

Knowing you’re thinking what I am
Looking into your eyes and not speaking
Having your beautiful body in my hands
All cuddled up in this precious thing

Dancing with you
Knowing life is so sweet
Sitting and wondering how you do
All cuddled up in this precious thing

Holding you so tight
Caressing you to sleep
Loving you in the night
All cuddled up in this precious thing

Our slowest, longest kiss
A lifetime of love never ending
That’s what our love is…
All cuddled up in this precious thing

Another day is gone – another day closer to coming home to you. I miss you so dearly. I’ll be thankful to see this week pass. It has been a bloody time here as of late, even closer to our compound. Of this past week, I have written little, but I think I am just getting used to violence. Three days ago, I was outside eating breakfast – our first real breakfast. We actually got strawberry milk and pre-packaged omelets. Foley, Conroy, and I were standing outside when only a few feet away, AK-47 fire started popping off. It was a firefight, just over the wall. People started dashing for the wall near the road, G.I.’s in PTs running with their rifles to return fire. Some people around me went into the cafeteria. I just stood there, then another burst of AK-47 fire. I didn’t even budge, it seemed so surreal. I kept eating, looking towards the running soldiers thinking, ‘Ok, now, from where I am standing, am I going to get shot?’ (Some yelling soldiers passed me with guns at the ready) ‘No, I can’t get shot, that is coming from the wall, and the barracks are between me and the wall. There is a gap, but I’m not in the line of fire. No, I am fine. Keep eating.’ It seems the gunfire is increasing. Every night I sit in my room, and Foley and I listen to the BBC. “BRRAA BRRAA BRRRRAA”
“14 rounds that time!” he says.
‘Yep, there’s some more,’ I reply.
“How close do you think that is?”
‘I don’t know, there’s some return fire…listen.’
“Yup, there’s a firefight. Should we do anything?” he’d ask.
‘No, just wait,’ I responded. Some nights I do tell him to get his rifle and get out of bed, just because the shots can get very close. I’m used to it now. BRRAA is AK-47, POP POP is 9mm pistol, THUD THUD is our guys shooting back with .50 caliber machineguns. The night after we got here, one of our convoys got shot at by a single gunman in the night. Our vehicles unleashed a wall of lead, over 1000 rounds of .50 cal, M16A2, and 9mm. All without identifying a target, just shooting aimlessly in the dark suburbs. SGT Castello, our re-enlistment NCO, led the response. That didn’t surprise me, what did surprise me is that we didn’t kill anyone. Not “we” but “them,” I was not part of them. Anyways, I was talking to an Iraqi man last week, and our conversation was interrupted by AK-47 fire only about 100 yards away. We just paused, looked, and continued talking as if nothing happened. So, even during the day, people are shooting here and there. The week was a terrible one though. Every day there has been death, even in our backyard. Now it’s not just Iraqis perishing, it’s G.I.s.
2412 – Conroy just came in from his night patrol.
“You won’t believe what happened! Apache was driving down the road and a motorcycle came along side the Hummers and started cussing at the soldiers, then weaving in and out of the trucks. So the machine gunner shot him. He was trying to shoot the motorcycle, but hit the Iraqi twice in the ass! We drove up to an intersection and we saw a motorcycle lying in the street, and soldiers standing around a man lying in the street. So we stopped and got out. The man’s arms and legs were bound with zip strips (plastic hand-cuffs). He was crying a storm! So, they tossed him in a truck. Major Stanton was laughing his ass off!”
I asked, ‘Did they take his to the hospital, or is he dead?’
“I don’t know, but he’s lucky to be alive. I used that same size bullet to hunt deer with,” he said.
‘Yes, he’s lucky to be alive,’ I just answered.
Last night I was trying to call you for some time, but the phone was out. Then CPT Nicks came in (around 0400) and said, “A father shot his son with a shotgun out back, about 100 meters away. We got there just as the father left. The son, he’s 20, was shot in the face and chest. There’s blood everywhere. It’s nasty Thompson.” Some guys came in said I could go look at the human mess. I looked at the phone, thought of you, and decided it was best to go to sleep. I had absolutely no desire to see the corpse. The son, I found out, wanted to get married – perhaps his love is pregnant, and he didn’t have any money. So he and his father argued, until his father blasted him with a shotgun. What a tragedy! It twists me inside, death, murder, the obliteration of love. To survive a war, to have love, and then to die so violently. It troubles me so. There are people who die everyday that I don’t even write about, just because it happens so often. An old man tries to take brass from an artillery shell, then blows himself up by accident. All to get metal from bullets to sell to get some food. Some people are even cutting down live power lines to get copper from the lines.
Anyways, the wake for this murdered man has lasted two days. Loudspeakers played a cleric’s prayers – hauntingly echoing in song all night long. I looked to the stars and whispered, ‘I love you.’ On Wednesday, I got a report of two men (G.I.s) missing. It turns out they were kidnapped. Their bodies were found today in north Baghdad. I knew that before the BBC. There is so much I know because of my job. I usually find out about something seconds after it happens.
But, there was yet another death, and two severe injuries again today. This time it happened just up the road, and the victims were people I’ve talked to on the radio –specifically Rider 3. He is the regimental operations officer. He lost his arm today, and one of his soldiers was killed by an explosion. An Iraqi man was on the side of the road and waved for help. So the trucks pulled over to help him. The man then ran off, and a large explosion blew them up. Just 1.5 kilometers from my office. The BBC is reporting it now. This was the same day we mourn the death of a soldier belonging to regiment just a day ago. The memorial was yesterday. The amount of death is unreal. It is so close. It’s made me a very serious person.
Tonight an informant was picked up at our gate. He’s told us that someone is planning to attack our barracks with a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). I’m not paranoid, I’m realistic about this place, and I don’t think it will be much longer before we get attacked. It will probably only be a rocket or a shooting, but it is only a matter of time. I imagine being shaken in the night by a shockwave from a blast. It’s not something that scares me, it’s just something I’m prepared for – realistically. You have to be realistic here, not paranoid. You gain a sense of clarity, or cold reason, of seriousness here. I stay safe. Every night I go outside to use the urine tubes “piss tubes” out in the open, I examine the surroundings. I listen, I listen to the dogs. I’m serious enough to realize I could be shot at. Every time I go out, I realize it could be the last time I go out for a walk. So, I’m careful, and I have a sense of how mortal I am. I never doubted that I was so mortal a being, as any other, but never did I think I could die so senselessly. Every step I take, is a step closer to you Nora, in such a true way as many men could never know. I don’t trust anyone in Baghdad. When I go into the city, I have my finger on the trigger of my rifle, and I examine everything. I look for anyone who wants to take my life as we are driving. I stay constantly looking rearward from the side door, making sure each passing car knows that I see them, and that my rifle is ready. As a car comes to pass, I identify everyone in the car and then wave to them. They wave back and smile – OK, keep watching them, but they are a low threat. OK, check the next car – OK, they see you looking at them, they wave a little bit nervously – but I wave back. OK, here comes an overpass – check it all, make sure no one is up there to shoot down at you. If someone wants to murder me, then it will be difficult, because I am always ready to respond. I have a belief about Baghdad, one that I was taught at the Vatican by the priest: protect your life and the life of others. I do not agree with this war, and I am not a person of violence, I wish these people no harm – and I do them no harm. The reality is that despite the immoral war that was won, there is a new authority here. It is not a terrible authority in principle. If someone wishes to take my life and not know me, not judge me, then he is a murderer. I would not let such a person take my life, to steal me unjustly from you. I would protect my life. I am coming home to you healthy and sound. I pray, and I trust in God to protect me. I do my part too, and I don’t play diplomat when in the city. I watch, I make sure to look everyone in the eye and make certain they know I see them. That is how it has to be now. I care about these people, but I’m not going to let a thug take my life. SGT Smith wanted me to go on patrol tonight with Conroy. Had I done that, I would have seen a man shot. I said ‘No’ though this afternoon, very sternly. I did it for you, Nora. I did it to make you feel safer, to make you proud, because I am coming home to you. I’m looking out for myself, I’m doing it for you, and I am protecting my life for you. Being here isn’t going to change our love, our fun, our life – but it may make, no it will, make me so thankful for you and our life together. It will make us stronger to get through this world. I LOVE YOU SO TREMENDOUSLY!

It was around this time that the U.S. Army of our evangelical Christian Bush administration flew in characters like Kid Rock and a Playboy pornography model to entertain the troops and celebrate the fall of Baghdad. We were still in the mindset that we had accomplished something great, and it was time to enjoy life and party! This is also when I realized the power of a gun -- that lock and load, that sliding of metal and that click that lets you know a bullet is in the chamber. It’s that click, that slide, that power that gets some people hyped, gets them going, makes people change sometimes.

[1] Airplane in stomach, like butterflies in stomach


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