The Early morning hours were passing in the ghostly low lit glow of my computer clock, the dog was reclined on our sofa and resting her head on her paws; gazing through my soul or looking for a date, I can never tell. A friend was calling and the phone was ringing. I hate the phone; anyone who knows me knows this. It is a strange irrationality of mine but my level of discomfort turns to panic as I let each ring pass. Sometimes I flip a switch inside and pick it up, other times I watch it play through to the end and take a moment to get over it.
My theory is that I hate the phone because I was a platoon radio operator during the battle of Fallujah when I was nineteen and every time somebody called me out there, it was an emergency. I had to monitor the net for unit reports on friendly movement so that my platoon did not walk into another’s gun fire. One time I had told a tank that it would be clear to fire on a building, shortly after I watched a dozen Marines from another platoon take cover behind the same building, out of sight of the tank. The tank’s turret shifted and pointed toward the building. When there are too many people talking on a radio channel, the net gets tied up and I have to wait for a person to stop talking before I can talk to them. I frantically held down the button to my handset repeating over and over, more panicked and more panicked, “Cease fire, cease fire, cease fire!” When I let go of the button I could hear the tank power down with a sound like a vacuum cleaner and my handset answered back, “Roger, cease fire.”
Other times I would need the radio to call for a medical evacuation of friends who had been shot or killed or hit by explosives. Most days my ear was stuck to my handset for eighteen hours and nothing special but during the times that nothing happened a person could not help but to wonder what the next horrible phone call might be. I turn my knob to our battalion channel and sometimes the breaking news of the day is a friend from another company has just been killed or I am sleepy on hour seventeen but keep nodding to the sound of empty radio static that makes a noise like television snow filled with a cold panic that if I succumbed to the sleep, my friends would die because of me. Sometimes Nate Douglass would call my apartment late at night and I would not pick up. I would want to cry for fear but did not feel well enough to help someone who needed real help. I would take a moment to recover and carry on with the endless web surfing. He just wanted to talk, so did I but war is a bitch and we both know it.
One time I picked up the phone for a number I did not recognize and it was Luis Munoz, our old point man. He had moved back to Mexico after the service and was calling to tell me about the violence he was witnessing, he said it was worse than Fallujah and he had a child to raise. He had been shot through the leg in Fallujah so bad that he was told he would never walk again. When we reunited Luis was in physical therapy walking with a cane in his early twenties, by the time he was discharged from the Marines as a wounded warrior he was jogging. Rich Casares had been hit by an enemy hand grenade in Fallujah which had damaged one of his eyes. The doctors put an air bubble behind it; I had to write him because he was in a Texas Prison, when he wrote me he would ask for a picture of Fallujah that looked really good so he could have it tattooed across his back. Paul Johnson has a kid and soon will Donald Blais, they live in Connecticut today and during the battle rushed into a burning house to ferry the bodies of their wounded friends, without being ordered to.
One early morning in my dark apartment I picked up the phone for Nate Douglass who had also been hit by an enemy hand grenade. We had been best friends in Fallujah. We talked about our struggles coming home and then we talked about the day that he had been hit by the hand grenade. He would reference the morning and I would retort with my perspective of the same thing. When we got to the operation he would talk about what he saw inside a house while I would tell him what I saw outside of that house, I realized that the story flowed naturally and that if I had the other members of our platoon who were there that day I was sure that they could reconstruct the story with even more depth. I told Douglass that night that I had an idea for a documentary that would tell a story of real life heroism and struggle that might answer questions for outsiders and those just returning from their story.
(Link to the Documentary)