Through heavily accented spanglish the first thing he ever said to me was, “I am your Corporal and I do not like the dick sucking.” I would come to later find that he had a robot black heart tattooed over his real heart. I was eighteen years old and standing at the position of attention. I replied, “I do like the dick sucking but to each his own Corporal.” My roommate was also new to the unit and had Mexican heritage, he bit his lip in fear but I was confident that the Corporal would not comprehend my translation. The Corporal was a light skinned Mexican, he was built of lean muscle, he ran Iron Man competitions for fun and he was my first real squad leader. I was at home. Somewhere in the not too distant future both of the men standing with me in that room would be shot full of bullets in their legs, the squad leader’s leg almost blown in half and my roommate’s calf’s would look like a shark took a snack as he stumbled into our overpowered house with his finger laying down full automatic survival.
Later the squad leader was moved to point-man, after the rest of the unit returned from advanced training. He loved the job and was good at it because he moved like a panther and was born lethal. I asked our point man “Bandito” how he came to America and he told me about walking through the border after several attempts as a teenager. His brother had taught him how to knife fight and he would teach me. He spoke of bandits in the streets of Mexico as a youth and how these bandits knew not to fuck with his knife fighting brother. During a training operation our unit participated in Okinawa the Bandito’s team was wiped out as he fought through the bottom story of a mock hotel with paint bullets. He called over the radio to inform us that he was carrying on. By himself the Bandito killed every member of the opposing force in the hotel working from the bottom floor to the rooftop. I was glad his service was in the US Marines.
I was his student. In Kuwait he introduced me to a Sergeant Peralta in 1st platoon. The Bandito explained to me and the Sergeant his outlook on the impending Battle of Fallujah in late 2004. He said, “I am here for the glory, nothing else. A million bullets can rain down and if Mary wants to take me it will be my time, if not it won’t.” I objected to this non-scientific approach and Sergeant Peralta laughed at my interpretation. Sergeant Peralta would later be nominated for a still pending medal of honor when after being terribly wounded he pulled an enemy hand grenade under his life-filled body, absorbing the lethal impact thus saving the lives of the Marines in the room with him. Regular guys who come from Mexico, the Mexican Marine Corps and an untold story of sacrifice by Mexican immigrants lives to this day in our military, which has always been filled with immigrants who yesteryear were white, giving generations of Americans a good excuse to avoid service.
This machinery is necessary to the American framework, it is not cruel, and tomorrow the Latino immigrants who served become politicians and can serve their non-serving white counterparts with a record that can’t be challenged. This is the real America and a new wave of demographic will be our integrated future, like it or not. The truth is domesticated suburbanite teenagers like I was can’t be killing effective without the hard hand of the immigrant Corporal, who is hard through experience and a representative of every immigrant Corporal from every country to come to America, pick up a gun and fight in another foreign land.
After the wounded had been extracted, I picked up the Bandito’s helmet. I looked to a full moon and wondered if there was any significance in this? My hero had been killed and my teacher was off to the hospital. I reached in his helmet and picked out a Spanish prayer card he had tucked into the webbing. I stuck it into the webbing of my helmet and left the war an untouched atheist. I will visit the Bandito in Mexico next month for the first time since we were Marines, where he is fighting for his country in the drug war. He is my last interview for the film.