For Those Who Walk Through Fields of Fire

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We search the target house and find only a friendly Iraqi farmer. We walk back to the boats and cut through the calm Euphrates on our way back home. Lighting up cheap Iraqi smokes, we tell jokes and share stories. My squad will kid me forever about the dog I didn’t kill in that field of dying crops and ancient farm equipment, but all the same I will miss them when I get out. These moments in Iraq and my time in the Marines will be remembered as a life I once lived but never to be had again. It is over.

Marine3s walking through a field in a cloud of dust..
Photo: Michael A. Blaha/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

A vibration in my pocket wakes me up. It’s been almost a year since I signed my discharge papers, and college isn’t holding my attention. I find myself missing the vulgarity of the infantry. Through mouths filled with plugs of dipping tobacco, I had learned the finer points of ambushing an unsuspecting enemy. Today, my science professor bores me with recessive traits and genomes.

I look down at my cell phone to see what the vibration is all about. A text message from Allen reads, “Taylor from 4th plt [platoon] was killed. He was the smart kid who went to Citadel…. Fuck.”

Last November, Fox Company deployed to Afghanistan, where they are in the thick of the fighting. Taylor was a good Marine, sent home early to his family. He will be missed.

It feels so strange that my friends are out fighting a war while I am home trying to get good grades. I joined the infantry in hope of giving meaning to my monotonous suburban life. In war, I thought I’d see the depth of man’s soul and witness the extremes of his emotions. I envisioned spending the end of my days like Hemmingway, drunk and writing amazing stories.

Life spared me of war’s atrocities and I am thankful for it. As the screen of my cell phone illuminates with grim news, I realize the world has had enough war stories. These stories are written in blood that seeps through the pages, and they speak volumes of our human tragedy.

The author deployed to Iraq in 2008. He now lives in Oakland, California, and attends Berkeley City College.

(Published March 27, 2010, on New America Media.)