Sunday, August 24, 2003

Fucked Up Soldiers and Conversations; Back at the U.N. Following the Attack, Encounter with a Frenchman

24 AUG 03

I’m a bit angry at my mom right now, and sad at the same time. She’s saying, “I know what war is like from TV,” and other things, more about politics and all – she’s so cold. I don’t even think we can communicate. Somehow, I wish we wouldn’t. I’m in a good mood though, I talked to you twice today, and I’m in such a good mood for it! I read for two hours some old letters from you too. I feel more and more that this time is going to go by fast. I love you Nora.
Today I went back to the U.N. with the chaplain and Major Stanton. We entered the CMOC (civil affairs) compound and parked on the backside of the U.N. HQ. I noticed some destroyed U.N. vehicles placed in a parking lot. The U.N. flag was also still at half-staff. We walked over to the back gate of the U.N. and it was busy with some press and workers coming and going. We walked in and I noticed the men and young women well dressed, then you notice many of them wearing bandages over their head, eye, or wrist. Many were showing signs of having been injured. It was strange to think they were functioning after such a disaster. You could tell there was an air of healing and resolve. We saw some people returning from the airport. They had been evacuated. A lot of the operations had been moved to tents. We ere standing near a check-in tent, and there was a Swedish flag and map. I saw some trucks from Sweden. That was interesting. We went over to a tent and found Mr. Maler. He’s an American of high stature (it seemed) working for the U.N. mission. He wore what seemed to be designer kakis and a grey t-shirt, some gray hair, smart-looking glasses, shoes of a style familiar to me from Germany. He hadn’t shaved in a day or two. His scalp showed small dark red cuts, his wrists were bandaged. I looked around his office, and there hung a U.N. flag, and over his desk a picture of Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary General. I thought about my boss’s picture, a goofy-looking George Bush Jr. back on the wall in Friedberg. I liked Annan, I thought it was beautiful to see his African face put in a place to be seen, by a staff who obviously respect him. The man, Mr. Maler, spoke clearly, we shook hands, and he offered the chaplain and I a juice. The chaplain was the only chaplain at the bombing site, and he had done the last rights for about 14 people that day. We wanted to do a follow up. I wanted to see for myself how everyone was doing. Major Stanton’s dad had worked a month ago with the U.N., and Major Stanton came to deliver his and his father’s condolences.
The American came around to telling his experience, “I was sitting in the cafeteria, and all of a sudden, there was a blast. I got hit, obviously (gesturing towards his wounds), by some glass. You can’t even see the bruises on my back. One girl had the imprint of a chair in her back. The amazing thing is that they had just applied a film to the glass in the room. That ended up keeping the glass intact, although it broke. It didn’t fly out. Had I been in my office though, I would have caught the blast, and the
3 cm thick of glass in the window. I couldn’t find my driver, so I went out to the yard in the front.
[1] You know how that looked, not good. So I checked the faces of the dead, many with awful wounds, and didn’t find any of my staff. My driver ended up wandering away from the compound in shock, waking up the next morning. I lived in Manhattan, 300 meters from the World Trade Center when it was attacked. After seeing that amount of destruction, nothing shocks you. BUT (he said to refocus us), we will rebuild, we’re going to carry on. I am going to head back to Brooklyn soon to see my wife soon. We have to go on mandatory 2 weeks vacation to recover.” He maintained his composure, but you could tell his cool was agitated a bit.
“So are you retired military?” the chaplain asked.
“No, I was in the military for 4 weeks though. It was in 1972 and I was drafted. Then, I was at Jacksonville station, and they told us to go home. The war was being drawn back. They didn’t want us anymore. So, we left. And that was my short stint in the military. I joined the U.N. in 1982,” (I believe that to be the date).
I wanted to be him. I just wanted to ask him, ‘How do I do what you did?’ The semiformal atmosphere barred this though. We then left his tent, and went to visit the security chief. He’s a retired Special Forces officer, and is very fond of Major Stanton’s father. I guess they share some experience from Vietnam. The chief greeted us three.
“Pleased to meet you, Corporal.” WOW, that flattered me. It shouldn’t have, but it did. Reminded me of the days at VMI. Anyways, at one point, I looked over at a man, as we all did, and he winked at us. I found that curious. He started to talk in a French accent, just enough to call to mind comedians and cartoon skunks. I was amused at this, so I wanted so much to hear what he wanted to say.
“I want to join the American Army!” he said as he ate an Army (U.S.) ration.
“And why is that?” Major Stanton asked.
“You have the best food for an army!” he proclaimed. I had to laugh a bit at this. He continued, “I was 20 years French special forces – never had food this good, na!” He winked at us again.
“Tell that to our soldiers, they can’t stand those things,” said the chaplain.
“Hmmm!” said the Frenchman, while shrugging his shoulders as if to say, “Well, I like it.”
“Do you think the French army will ever come here?” Major Stanton asked, trying to push a button, but only in a friendly way.
“No, No,” said the Frenchman, “Never! Never in Iraq. See, we are in Afghanistan, Congo. We are all over.” He seemed to say, “Look, we’re already engaged extensively. It’s not like we don’t participate in anything.”
This answer made its point, and the major disengaged from him, only because we had to be on our way. I looked at one desk in the tent, and a woman was sitting there typing, but with 50% of her head bandaged. It looked painful. She looked like she was on the edge of tears, and I told myself to look away almost as soon as I saw her so she wouldn’t feel like a freak show. If it weren’t for the mass of gauze bandage and an eye cup bandage, I wouldn’t even have noticed her. It was just amazing she was still working.
Well then we left the tent and headed back towards the truck. Conroy was there waiting and our scout truck escorts. I noticed a woman, middle-aged, Iraqi, and round, sitting in a chair and surrounded by reporters recording her. She spoke while starring at the ground. Maybe she was giving an interview. We continued on.
“You just missed it,” Conroy said plainly. “They just brought out two coffins with U.N. flags over ‘em and put them in the back of a pick-up truck. That’s the mortuary. The press were taking pictures of it.”
I looked over at the gate and it was crowded by press. Eventually we drove out the gate. Past the press, I just looked at them blankly. I didn’t feel like giving them any read on how I felt right then. I felt like saying, ‘Let them rest in peace! Don’t you have something better to do than take photos of coffins baking in the sun in the back of a truck?!’
For now my account will have to stop. I need to go to bed. I love you Nora, I so truly do.

I was waiting to use the satellite phone when I had a conversation with a fellow soldier about the internet. He went on to tell me about a site he had been going to that showed the body of a decomposing woman. The pictures were displayed in stages of decomposing, culminating with a badly decomposed corpse. The pictures were apparently taken in a wooded area. He found this extremely amusing. What he found most amusing though, was what he claimed to be an oriental man eating a human fetus. He swore that the pictures were genuine, and swore that they were the coolest things that he had ever seen. I sat there across from him in disgust. What was happening to us? Had we always been this messed up? Was I just now noticing that some people are seriously fucked up because I am spending more time around them than I was in Germany?

[1] Bodies were placed on the grass courtyard in front of the complex.


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