This is the 15th Memorial Day since the battle of Falluja in late 2004, in which 82 American service members died. The battle was a key operation at the outset of the Iraq War and resulted in the fiercest urban combat since the battle for Hue in Vietnam in 1968.
I fought in that battle in Iraq, leading First Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, and two years later, on a clear January day in Camp Lejeune, I was awarded a medal. My entire family came for the occasion. Our infantry battalion stood in formation while the adjutant for the Second Marine Division read a citation.
Most of the Marines I’d fought alongside weren’t there — they’d moved on, to civilian life, to other postings — but a few remained. I searched for their faces, but lost them in the ranks. I was handed the citation and the more detailed “summary of action,” the official story of what happened.
When I look at that account now I see gaps. I want to add things, details that a formal government account could never capture, personal reflections that fill the spaces between the lines.
So that is what I’ve done, in boldfaced passages from the summary of action, and the recollections they stirred — to record what I hope, beyond that account, will be remembered.
Two weeks into the battle, my company commander told me that I was both the luckiest and unluckiest lieutenant he’d ever met. The luckiest because right out the gate I experienced the largest battle the Marine Corps had fought in decades. I was the unluckiest because everything I ever did after that would seem inconsequential.
“I can’t take it any more,” one of the Marines tells me. We’re four days into the battle. His squad leader said he needed to talk to me. “I keep thinking about my daughter. Every time I go into a house I think about her.” He is crying and the other Marines are watching and I know that fear is contagious. “Do you want me to get you out of here?” I ask. He keeps muttering that he can’t take it. Twenty minutes later I’m loading him into an amtrack that will drive him out of Falluja alongside wounded Marines. He and another Marine in the platoon are married to a set of sisters, making them brothers-in-law. That other Marine says he’ll never speak to him again.
On the back of an M1 Abrams tank there is a little telephone in a box tapped into the crew’s intercom; it’s called a grunt phone. I’ve never been as scared as I was the times I had to run to that grunt phone, bullet impacts dancing on the tank’s armor, their ricochets flashing like fistfuls of thrown pennies. I needed to get on the grunt phone to tell the tanks where to shoot. The tank crew would listen to music on their intercom, so if no one was talking you’d hear pop songs when you held the handset to your ear. The tankers I worked with liked Britney Spears. The squat crew chief, who looked like he was born to fit inside of a tank, told me that he played the music because it helped everyone in the tank stay “frosty.”
It is the Corps’ birthday. As we load the tracks, the Marines swap little pieces of M.R.E. cake and placed them gently in their mouths like priests placing communion wafers.
I am on my stomach most of the day and each time I peek my head above the wall, I am convinced it’s going to get shot off. Second platoon is in the building next to ours. A friendly airstrike accidentally hits them. We hear them screaming on the radio as they call in their wounded, and it mixes with the sounds of our jets overhead.
I catch the Marines stealing glances at me as I talk on the radio. They know that what is said over the radio — an order, a mission — can get them killed, but they have little control over those decisions. When we come home, one of the Marines in our platoon has to see the base psych, or “wizard,” for PTSD symptoms. When I tell him I understand what he went through, he tells me that I don’t. He says, “If you had to drive at 150 m.p.h. down the freeway, what’s scarier: driving the car, or riding shotgun?”
When we saw the first insurgents we couldn’t believe how casually they were walking around. They didn’t expect us that far into the city. When we killed them it felt like murder.
The Marines are running room to room, shooting into the street. Above the window where one of our machine guns is peeking outside, there is a poster of a lake encircled by snowcapped mountains. I am looking at the poster when three men in black track suits bolt into the open. I don’t see them until they are dead in front of us. One of them is laying on his side, with his head resting on the curb like it’s a pillow. The machine-gunner, a kid named Benji, looks back at me smiling.
Back in Lejeune, we give him his helmet as a farewell gift. The other Marine, a 20-year-old named Brown, is shot through the femoral artery. We slip and fall on his blood. The building we’re trapped in is a convenience store, so we find a few bags of salt and empty them on the ground. It takes a long time for the medevac to come. We’re crawling across the room, trying to find the sniper who shot Brown, the salt and the blood crunching beneath our hands and knees.
Brown survives. By this point, we’re surrounded.
“Benji,” I say, “give me that.” I snatch the machine gun from him and fire a burst for the tanks to see. The arc of my tracers goes clumsily high. “Jesus, give it back, sir,” says Benji. His rounds are on target. The two of us stay up there and do it together.
While I’m on the roof, our company executive officer finds our platoon. He rushes inside and asks, “Who’s in charge!” Wounded Marines are scattered all over the ground floor. Someone weakly says, “Doc is,” pointing to our 19-year-old corpsman. When I’m on the roof, I don’t want to come downstairs and see this. You are responsible for everything your platoon does or fails to do. Responsible for everything.
I stick my head out of the door and a machine gun’s burst nearly takes it off. On the alley’s far side there is a wall, which a pair of pigeons are trying to land on. Every few seconds there is another burst from the machine gun. The pigeons can’t land, and we can’t get out this way. Coming back into the house, I see Banotai, and I say, “We’re trapped. It’s suicide if we go that way.” Later Banotai tells me that when I told him that it was the most scared he ever was.
They shot down at us from the rooftops. I am crouching in a doorway and Ames is next to me with his radio and its damn 10-foot antenna. It’s so loud, the air itself is ringing, and I am soundlessly shouting into the radio, as if the incredible noise has devoured my voice. Little tufts of earth erupt near my feet as bullets impact all around. Two Marines drag Banotai toward an amtrack. He’s been knocked unconscious. An RPG explodes next to another Marine, shredding his pants. His legs are covered in blood and from the waist down he’s naked.
Our platoon sergeant, two out of our three squad leaders, four out of our six team leaders, they are all evacuated. My socks are wet. I’ve sweat through my clothes. I finally get a head count. About half of the platoon is gone.
Someone offers me a cigarette. It’s the first one I’ve smoked since I was 17 … I once read an account by a German officer in the First World War who said that after each assault through the trenches, he would make sure to have his men eat afterward, that way they knew they were alive. I try to make sure everyone is eating.
They were just standing at a bend in the road. They were all wearing black. I took my time calling in the mortars, but because they were at a bend in the road I knew exactly where they were. I whispered the grid coordinates into the radio and then I waited. They just disappeared when the rounds impacted. After a couple of minutes a gentle breeze cleared up the smoke. It looked like someone had dumped a pile of wet black rags in the road.
When I come home, more often than you might expect, a stranger will ask me if I ever killed anyone. For a long time, I didn’t know how to answer that question. A friend of mine took to saying, “If I did, you paid me to,” which eventually I also took to saying, but the first person who asks me is my cousin, and she is 6 years old.
My first platoon sergeant has been replaced by Staff Sergeant Ricardo Sebastian, who we call Seabass. He leads six Marines downstairs. He’s going to clear out the house next door while the rest of us keep fighting from the rooftop, hoping to keep the insurgents’ heads down while Seabass presses the assault.
I’m calling for Seabass over the radio, but he isn’t answering. I don’t know what’s going on next door, so I run downstairs and into the other house. The ground floor is on fire. Landgrebe, a 20-year-old lance corporal, has been shot through both legs and he’s dragging himself toward the front door. A can of gasoline sits in a corner and someone has lit a bunch of blankets and mattresses on fire, as if the insurgents want to burn down the house with themselves and us inside. I’m coughing on the smoke. I find Seabass in the corner. He’s been shot through the arm and leg.
We’re lobbing grenades around the corners, there’s dust everywhere, I unload my pistol into the next room because I’m too scared to step into the room with my rifle. I can hear them inside, speaking in gasps, shuffling through the debris, as slowly — grenade by grenade and bullet by bullet — we kill them. For the next few weeks little pieces of steel work their way out of my skin. Our platoon corpsman, who still has acne, picks them out for me at night like he’s popping pimples.
After a month, we’re taken out of Falluja and to a base where we get a hot meal, a shower and fresh uniforms. When I take mine off, there are holes in the back and bloodstains there, as well as on the shoulders and the knees. Some guys throw their old uniforms away.
I tie mine up in a plastic bag and put it in my pack. Two months later, when our tour is up, I worry that some customs officer at the airport might confiscate the uniform, declaring it a sanitary hazard. But that doesn’t happen.
When I get home, I put it in my basement, hidden, where it has sat for the past 15 years. My medals, I imagine, I will someday give to my daughter. The watch I wore in the war and still wear now I plan to give to my son. But this uniform — who is it for?
Sometimes I think about throwing it out. I don’t need it.
Sometimes I think that maybe I should still keep it, but just wash it instead. What would it be like to see it clean?
But I haven’t done that either.
So it just sits there. And from time to time, I take it out, look at it, press my fingers in the holes, trace out the blotchy stains and wonder what’s to be done with it, that bundle of clothes that despite all the memories is nothing more than an old, bloody and tattered rag.
Elliot Ackerman is the author of three novels, and the forthcoming memoir “Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning,” from which this article is excerpted.
The photographs from Falluja were taken by Ashley Gilbertson, who was embedded with Marines fighting in the battle in Falluja in 2004.
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【白】【素】【贞】【突】【然】【看】【向】【法】【海】，【面】【色】【不】【善】，“【绝】【对】【是】【他】【搞】【的】【鬼】，【否】【则】【官】【人】【怎】【么】【会】【想】【到】【出】【家】【当】【和】【尚】。” 【这】【其】【中】【绝】【对】【有】【法】【海】【使】【乱】【子】。 【或】【者】【说】【是】【教】【唆】！ 【不】【然】【的】【话】，【许】【仙】【又】【没】【有】【变】【傻】，【怎】【么】【会】【想】【到】【来】【金】【山】【寺】【剃】【度】【出】【家】【为】【僧】。 “【好】【你】【个】【法】【海】，【我】【不】【去】【找】【你】，【你】【反】【倒】【找】【到】【我】【头】【上】【来】，【你】【就】【教】【唆】【我】【官】【人】【剃】【度】【出】【家】，【真】【是】【岂】【有】【此】【理】
【上】【津】【城】，【马】【牙】【巷】。 【紧】【邻】【主】【街】【的】【缘】【故】，【马】【牙】【巷】【的】【几】【家】【小】【店】【生】【意】【一】【直】【不】【错】，【虽】【非】【大】【富】【大】【贵】，【但】【掌】【柜】【们】【也】【能】【衣】【食】【不】【愁】。 【死】【者】【杜】【庆】【就】【在】【马】【牙】【巷】【经】【营】【杂】【货】【店】。 【他】【是】【个】【鳏】【夫】，【老】【妻】【三】【年】【前】【病】【故】。【女】【儿】【嫁】【了】【本】【地】【的】【席】【铺】【少】【掌】【柜】，【夫】【家】【同】【样】【是】【殷】【实】【之】【户】。 【杜】【庆】【已】【经】【年】【过】【四】【旬】，【但】【每】【日】【适】【量】【劳】【作】，【加】【之】【吃】【食】【充】【裕】，【他】【看】【起】【来】特彩吧7515O【今】【天】【请】【假】【一】【天】。
“【莫】【不】【是】【陈】【掌】【门】【需】【要】【正】【阳】【之】【气】？”【方】【铭】【毫】【不】【遮】【掩】【的】【说】【道】。 “【你】【说】【的】【没】【错】，【本】【座】【正】【是】【需】【要】【正】【阳】【之】【气】。”【陈】【清】【灵】【面】【不】【改】【色】【心】【不】【跳】【的】【说】【道】。 “【陈】【掌】【门】【如】【果】【需】【要】，【尽】【管】【来】【取】【便】【是】。”【方】【铭】【自】【信】【自】【身】【正】【阳】【之】【气】【很】【多】，【便】【大】【方】【的】【让】【对】【方】【取】【走】【一】【些】，【反】【正】【对】【自】【身】【没】【什】【么】【影】【响】，【只】【要】【道】【心】【稳】【固】，【正】【阳】【之】【气】【很】【快】【就】【能】【恢】【复】，【毕】【竟】【坤】【圣】
“【父】【皇】！”【耶】【律】【璟】【连】【忙】【大】【叫】【道】。 【耶】【律】【德】【光】【示】【意】【耶】【律】【璟】【到】【他】【身】【边】，【当】【即】【护】【住】【了】【耶】【律】【璟】，【凝】【视】【着】【张】【寒】【城】，【道】：“【现】【在】，【解】【药】【应】【该】【交】【出】【来】【了】【吧】。” 【张】【寒】【城】【道】：“【我】【要】【先】【确】【定】，【陛】【下】【你】【是】【否】【也】【给】【赵】【将】【军】【与】【高】【将】【军】【下】【了】**【行】。” 【耶】【律】【德】【光】【道】：“【朕】【如】【果】【说】【没】【下】【毒】，【你】【信】【么】？” 【张】【寒】【城】【道】：“【不】【太】【相】【信】，【所】【以】【我】【需】