Tuesday, August 19, 2003

United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad Bombed; Patroling the Streets that Night, Going to the wounded U.N.

19 Aug 03 (Now 0120 20 AUG 03)

It’s late, and I’ve just returned from the U.N. HQs Baghdad. I’m also lying in bed, listening to the BBC on my headphones. The U.N. HQs was bombed today, in a terrible, insane act. I don’t know where to begin. Today I have almost completed your birthday presents (I’ve spent all week drawing art for your cards) and today I decided that I would start a letter again, finally. Right when I was about to start, one of our tower guards reported a large explosion. Then the report came in from Major Stanton that an explosion had gone off, around the UN building. I couldn’t believe it. As events unfolded, I was working the radios and coordinating efforts along with LTC Jagger, CPT Smalls, and SSG Lawson. It was a non-stop activity trying to establish security and provide aid. The details are plenty, so I will stick with impressions.
When the attack occurred, just 3 miles away, I was in shock. It made no sense that the organization that would help Iraq should be attacked. I wanted to go to the scene, but I had to do the coordination at our headquarters because the pace was too fast for anyone else to handle. I was able to go on the 2000 departure with LTC Jagger and our XO Major Day and our scouts. Usually we all stay at the HQs, as a rule. Major Stanton conducted the ground coordination, along with CPT Powers.
Before I go any further I had a rare nightmare two nights ago. Something was wrong with my stomach and I had to go to the hospital here in Baghdad, across the Tigris River. Knight 3 said SPC Manson should drive me, and I knew this was ridiculous, because he’s a dangerous driver, and it was pouring rain outside, at night. I was missing you terribly! Then I couldn’t understand why they would pick him to drive me there. So he ended up driving a M577
[1] vehicle and we began sliding. We got to the Tigris River bridge by the palace, and Manson hit the guard rail of the bridge and drove us off the bridge, and we plummeted into the river. I grew so angry, at the Army, at the decision to let him drive, that his stupidity would kill me, and that I would die and leave you! All of a sudden, I yelled as loud as I could and woke up. But, I had actually screamed aloud in reality, waking up some guys in the room. I was embarrassed. I have never done that ever in my life. I woke up and my heart was racing. I explained to the guys in the room my dream, they laughed for the next few days. It was a major event for me though. I miss you so much Nora, you should know how much!
Well, tonight was eerie. The streets were glistening in the night from the oil slicks or something, producing the same visual effect as the rain on the streets in my dream. It was dark, strange tonight, exactly as in my dream. I began to wonder if that was a bad thing, a bad omen. But I set my superstitions aside, again as in the initial drive to Baghdad, put my faith in God. The CO, the XO, scouts and I got suited up and rolled out. As we exited the camp, we passed the field surgery hospital, where the mortuary is. There are usually caskets crudely made of pressboard sitting about the shack outside the hospital. We drove by, and I’ll never forget, through the glow of outdoor overhead lights and flashlights of medics working on row upon row of casualties laying on cots, and medics working hurriedly, holding up IV bags, as we drifted past. Near the gate were U.N. trucks and civilian and Army trucks parked. It was so surreal, I had just been working on the bombing response, saw it on TV as I was talking to the very units on the TV, and now saw the casualties, some of them. I could tell Knight 6 did not want to go to the explosion site. We first went to Assyrian Democratic Movement complex, then to another neighborhood in sector 23. We dismounted (out of our trucks) and went on foot through the neighborhood. We were shining our lights all around looking for any gunmen, but remained friendly. I pulled rear security on our foot patrol. So many families came out to say hello, little boys and girls came out and followed us. They seemed so appreciative that we were there. Every person said hello, was friendly. We went back to our trucks, then drove around. Everyone, young and old, were out to wave hello. Some of the people looked so westernized, even looked American! Even the elderly folks. The homes too were very nice, above or at U.S. standards. They were quite respectable.
We then drove to another part of town. I have never seen such poverty in my life. Market stalls made of trash, open sewage running in the streets. People laying around in the streets just to stay cool. It was so dark, like a dream, down Arab streets, alleys so small, so basic. Every now and then I would pass a small child and shake his or her little hand and whisper, ‘Salam, Hello,’ and they were in awe. I doubt they could see my face. It was so dark. You feel as if God has put you in this place to learn something. Backstreets of an Arab city at night, kids at your feet, stepping through sewage. I had to ask, ‘Are they happy because they’re free? Can they perceive a difference in their lives? Are they simply happy that arrogant Saddam is gone. Or, are they kissing our ass?’ It didn’t matter to me, I only knew I was there, and I accepted that – not as an American – but as Dan, as me. You do feel like a superhero sometimes to these kids, they do seem to love you. We actually thought we’d get some negative feedback from the people because the U.N. was blown up. We didn’t get that though. We returned to our trucks. The whole time I was looking at the homes in the slum, and thought so much about you and me and how lucky we are. I love you. We then got a call that we needed to pick up the chaplain from the U.N. compound.
I remember the U.N. so clearly, affectionately. Tonight as we approached the U.N. we passed a checkpoint of MPs, a tiny black female sitting behind a machine gun waved us through. We continued down canal road slowly to the perimeter wall (east side) of the U.N. The gloomy lights revealed a U.N. flag at half mast, and rubble. Debris littered the side of the road. Civilian cars, perhaps those belonging to the dead, sat by the side. FBI trucks were there, tons of land moving equipment sat idle (as it was late). (I’m so upset about it right now). Exhausted soldiers lay around on their trucks trying to sleep, their dumb, yet sad expressions sat on their faces. We got the chaplain, he was troubled. He told us he had done the last rights for 13 or so dead. I said a Hail Mary and prayed for the dead. I felt like I was at a graveyard. We didn’t want to stay at the compound any longer. We returned to the HQ (our HQ) and we all stood around the TV watching live BBC footage of another bombing in Israel. It’s unreal, bombing of any kind is unacceptable. I noticed some buildings bombed by the U.S. tonight. I just became more confused. All the rubble looked the same. Why the U.N. though? We stood around watching the footage of the U.N. compound, the BBC reported the rescue was ongoing – BUT, that wasn’t true at all. All activity had ceased. Tens of generators and mast lights sat there unused when we were there. The chaplain said all activity stopped when we left. That angered some of us. The chaplain and I spoke and I almost began to cry, as he reluctantly spoke of the young, pretty French and Swedish women he gave last rights to, who he consoled as they realized they couldn’t feel their legs, as some came back to life. He mentioned several times, “I never want to see that again, ever.” You could see in his eyes he had seen death. He described crushed, burnt, bursted bodies. He told about the young Europeans with crushed heads and missing faces. A crater 5 feet deep left by the explosion. The diesel engine from the truck bomb thrown 200 meters away. Major Stanton was there too, yet it seemed he was more moved by the adventure of it all, I wonder how he can be so basic sometimes. I don’t understand him. For many people here, this is no big deal, but for people like me and people on my level and what not, this has been a terrible day, and the loss is enough to bring tears to my eyes. We glanced back at the TV, and I saw a clip showing that soldier I mentioned a month ago in my journal who mentioned waving to married women to Conroy and me in front of the U.N. – he was on TV with his rifle drawn and telling people to stay back. I looked back at the chaplain. I even wanted to go to the field surgery to pray by someone’s side, but I doubt it would be allowed. Tonight I pray, for peace. All this violence is coming out of Satan, all of it. God has given us his law. To deny that law is to welcome evil, to harbor seeds of destruction. It’s a shame so many people died today, people who really wanted a better world for all. Their lives I will never forget. I love you Nora.
[1] Box-looking tracked vehicle


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