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by Michael Ware


On my daughter's first birthday, I returned from Iraq bloody tour in the city of Ramadi. It was 2005, my second tour. I had been wounded there,a friend killed in front of me, our casualties coming in almost daily as we fought the city to save it. I met death in war, and it followed me home. Within four months, my father, the author Frederick Busch, died of a sud­den heart attack on a sidewalk in New York City-followed closely by my mother, who was taken by an incurable brain tumor. Home could never be what it was before I left. I was not alone in that feeling.

We didn't speak much of our families while we were in Iraq. Their safety seemed dependent upon distance from us, and ours upon a certain detachment from them. I left my wedding ring at home. I did not want the war to know that it could hurt anyone but me. I stopped believing that I would survive my tour in Ramadi, but it was a friend who died in my place. His death was sudden, brutal, and his shattered vehicle burned for much of the night. We guarded the wreckage in the dark, surrounded by Iraq, waiting to recover the body of another Marine trapped beneath it. In the morn­ing I went to his room. On a shelf there was a single family photograph. There he was, alive, with his wife and young children. But I had seen him die. His wife did not yet know that she was a widow. I was there to witness the end of their family, and I was there to see it happen to Iraqi families, too.

Our troops are leaving Iraq. I see no signs that America is exultant. Our electorate became exhausted by news of the conflict long ago, desensitized by its constancy, our brief im­patience for results or departure dissipating, pacified by the conflict's inability to endanger our domestic comforts. The war became what it often is, good business and far away. As casualties mounted, people displayed yellow symbols of sup­port for the troops on their car bumpers, but few activists de­manded an end to our bloodletting. It was a very supportive complacency, and it went on for years while our military pa­trolled the desert. Despite the evidence that our invasion had been a complete mistake, we came to accept our deepening commitment to an unjust war. But the story of our presence in Iraq is, for many of us, the story of our absence from home.

The veteran's view of home becomes the dream of memory, and the definition of home changes. Home for me was seven months in a pup tent on the packed dust of the Iranian bor­der, Al Kut, and Babylon. Then I came home to America. Then I left home, and home was a concrete dog kennel in Ramadi that we bleached and put cots in, a shelter from mortars, rockets, and snipers. Then I came home again. Some veterans can't comprehend home anymore. They have been trained that survival is their own responsibility, that they must keep their distance, ask for nothing, expect nothing. Kept in war too long, they are lost in their own homeland.

It didn't use to be called the military. Back in the '40s and '50s, it was simply called "the service." It was assumed that you would spend some of your youth in the service of your country. Times have changed and now few serve. What has not changed are our veterans who, for their own reasons, still serve-and who, afterward, are forever bound to their flag and their people. Any nation is too immense and austere to articulate the emotional debt it owes to the service mem­bers it sends away and the families who must watch them go. The fallen veteran will be carried to the grave under our flag, and that flag will be presented to the family, as if it were equivalent to the life of one citizen. Over the past decade, 4,421 soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen were killed in Iraq. They are home now as well.

There are no more Americans patrolling, armed and for­eign, through Iraqi streets. Iraq is truly free and will bear the consequences of freedom. We withdraw leaving our apolo­gies and expecting little gratitude. It will take a generation to see what becomes of the people we have come to know as friends and enemies. We have made an impression on Iraq, and Iraq has traveled back with us in dust and remembrance.

I know what the Tigris looks like at dawn and the Euphrates at dusk. I know the scent of flatbread cooked in a clay oven. I know how to say "my friend," and "Halt or I'll shoot" in Arabic. I know these things because I was there. These long uncertain years of occupation turned a small country we couldn't find on a map into a household name we won't soon forget: the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia, a land thought to be the location of Eden, Iraq.

This week the quiet professionals who stood at our gates and went forth in America's name are coming back to live with us again. I understand what our veterans have done-and I am grateful. Welcome home…


3. Read the article to the end and ponder over the author’s idea about people having to live a war without an end. Put your ideas in writing (150 words).

COMING HOME (continued)


I'm told the Iraq War is coming to an end. From what I read and from what I hear it seems the war that began in 2003 will be over within two short weeks. Once the last few thousand troops are finally home. And once midnight strikes on this New Year's Eve, for that's the preordained moment when America's right under international law to be in Iraq will expire.

And yet, somehow, I'm still confused. For somewhere within, from my heart of hearts, I just know for some of us the war in Iraq will probably never end. On New Year's I know where I'll be. I'll have a drink in hand, overlooking one of my favorite Australian beaches, listening to revelers in the sand cheer as the clock strikes midnight. Yet, I grave­ly suspect, I will also be very much in Baghdad. And in Fallujah. And Ramadi. Tal Afar. Halabja. Amarah. And many, many other places.

Then, perhaps, I will see in the year with Capt. Sean Sims, a proud young father, and with Lt. Edward Iwan. Maybe Omar, my old translator. Abu Abdulraheman too, a good friend and an insurgent commander. I would play with his baby son for hours, realizing the boy was precisely the same age as the son I'd left at home. That insurgent leader once saved my life. And with Paul Moran, an Australian television cameraman who had a deep love for Kurdistan. Possibly even with the earnest-looking young boy I once saw out the back of a besieged Sadr City hospital. I'm sure there will be others. For these are but a few of my Iraq dead. Some I knew dearly. Others I only met in death.

If anything, I often think, perhaps we should grieve for the living. Those left behind, without a father or a mother. Those who must now face the rest of their days living a war without end. Like a young man the late Rep. John Murtha once spoke of at a D.C. press conference after he'd visited a military hospital. The kid had been blinded and lost both his hands taking care of U.S. bomblets. His mother kept vigil by his bedside. "Is there anything I can do for you?" Murtha says he asked. "Get him a Purple Heart," was the mother's reply. Because they were "friendly" bomblets, the boy so badly maimed had been denied the honor. "I told the commandant," said Murtha, choking up before the camer­as. "If you don't give him a Purple Heart I'll give him one of mine ... They gave him a Purple Heart." Sometimes, when I let my mind wander, I wonder what it's now like for that young veteran, the bulk of his life still waiting ahead of him. Without hands to touch. Or eyes to see.

In odd little ways that story steels me for what I must face. That boy's bravery, and the testament of that mother's love, inspire me. On some of my bad days, thoughts of them spur me to just take one more step forward, not to just let it all go, even when that's all it is I want to do.

A great, dear friend of mine to whom I was bonded forever one horrific night in the Battle of Fallujah in 2004 was wounded. But only after he returned to the United States. I have footage of him, caked in filth and wired from our days and days without sleep, on the flanks of the battle using my satellite phone to call home. "I love you," I recorded him tell­ing his wife, and the mother of his children. Their marriage did not survive the war. And once home, the parents on one of his kids' sporting teams expressed concern about whether my friend might curse, or be aggressive, because he'd been in Iraq. I think that floored him. He couldn't believe it. After all he'd survived, after all he'd done for his country. This.

That friend is SSG David Bellavia. And in or out of uni­form you'd be hard-pressed to find a finer or more decent man. And I should know. For I'm proud to say I helped nominate this incredible soldier for the Medal of Honor. On David's 29th birthday, a dark and awful November night in 2004, I saw him do the most extraordinary things. Out of love, out of fear, out of truly uncommon valor.

In the Battle of Fallujah his platoon had been tasked to search a darkened block of perhaps 20 or 30 high-walled houses in to which six to eight suicidal al Qaeda members had been seen fleeing and where they were trapped. The search began around 7 p.m., one house after another, all pitch black and eerily empty. It wasn't until sometime around 1 a.m. that the platoon, now beyond exhaustion and drained of anything except the barest instincts for survival, entered house number 20. In through the iron gates, across the garden, the carport, into the living room. It was only when a tender young soldier stepped through a door into the small hallway and toward the kitchen and the stairs leading to the second floor that we found where the al Qa­eda fighters were lurking.

The first pair were waiting beneath the stairs; encased be­hind prepositioned sandbags and cinderblocks, they were ready with a belt-fed machine gun, rifles, and a rocket-pro­pelled grenade. In the dark, they opened fire upon us from point-blank range.

The bullets were literally coming through the walls. The kid was yanked back into the living room. We later saw a bullet hole through the tail of his shirt. The entire platoon was pinned, and it was only when David grabbed a ma­chine gun and stepped back into that hallway that the pla­toon could scramble back out of the house. Eventually David and I made an unspoken pact. Someone would have to go back in there, and it was going to be us. With my little camera rolling (good just for audio, as the only illumina­tion came from the muzzle flashes of the weapons fired just feet away), David set forth to kill those fighters, or to die trying. Before it was done, the fighting would be hand to hand. The al Qaeda members dispersed throughout the house; hiding in cupboards and the ceiling and all itching to die, taking us with them. "We were all freaked out," Da­vid told a documentary team last year. "Bogey­men, we were fighting bogeymen." By the time I could finally turn on the night vision on my camera, I recorded us dragging the bodies of six of those fighters out of the house and piling them up on the pavement. Another, mortally wounded, escaped out a window and crawled off to die.

David was instantly awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Yet it sickens me, as I sit here now with the sounds of my recording raging around me as guns blaze and David and I breathlessly yell to each other inside that house, that my friend has not yet been awarded the Medal of Honor. I have much unfinished business from the war, things I must com­plete before I can hope for my war to be over, and seeing David awarded that medal is one of my things.

The Iraq War is finished. But for soldiers who fought there, and for journalists who covered the bloodiest battles, closure is yet to come.


4. Read the final paragraph again. Do you agree with the author? Prepare to talk about it in class.



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