Editor’s note: The story below contains strong language and graphic depictions of war. The spelling and grammar in the Marine’s letter are intentional and reflect the narrator’s voice.
War is full of betrayal. In my own experience of war, I witnessed betrayal first hand. Having now spoken with hundreds of other Iraq veterans, I know that I am not the only one to feel that perhaps the first betrayal was our being sent there in the first place.
What follows is likely the most famous story of betrayal in history, set against the backdrop of the American War in Iraq, 2003.
Monday, 14 April, 2003
Greetings From Beautiful Sunny Iraq!
First, before I forget, I want to say how much it means to me your incouraging me to write to you. I know you can understand me better than anybody because we have so much in common and please don’t take that the wrong way. I hope you can read this chicken scratch. The wind is blowing about forty fucking miles an hour and the sand feels like little needles. I’d crawl inside one of the vehicles but all the other Marines are piled in there and I’m getting pretty sick of the same bullshit they talk about all the time. I used to think I hated it when all they talked about was cars and weapons and pussy and video games but to tell you the truth I wish they’d got back to talking about all that shit. Now it seems like all the want to talk about is religion and politics and frankly I’m sick of both! The way I see it, those two things are what ended me up in this shithole. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the Marine Corps and God help me, I still love the United States of America even though it pisses me off to think that most of them have probably forgotten we’re even over here and the “war” isn’t even two months old. One of the guys in my unit got a letter from back home. He’s the only one, believe it or not. Our mail hasn’t been able to find us since we’re always on the move. I know in my fucking heart that the WW II Marines were getting their mail better than we are. Who knows if you’ve been getting mine and if you’ve sent any (I know you probably have and I’m sorry to say they haven’t yet made it here but hopefully they will.) We’ve been told that we’re going to meet up with a supply train in a week that has all our mail but that’s probably bum scoop (1) to keep up moral. Anyways, here letter that Cpl. Matthew’s wife sent said that after we bombed the shit out of Bagdad and all of the “tip of the spear” units (us among them) made our initial push north from Kuwait sweeping north, the American media pretty much stopped paying any attention to us and all they’re talking about is how the Governor of Vermont (I forgot his name) apparently hates us for being here, that all of California is apparently on fire with wildfires and that they found some little Mormon girl that had been missing in Salt Lake City. It was all a big pep rally for us when we left but now I guess they’ve moved on to more important things. I tell you that—listen to me, now. This is the same shit the Marines must have been talking about in the vehicles during the dust storm. Yes, it’s kind of calmed down now. They come and go pretty quick. The Marines are now piling out. As much as I hate the dust storms, I will say one thing, they keep the Marines inside the LAVs (2) and Humvees (3) and they also keep the flies away. Yes, this place is fucking covered in flies. The worst part about that is we have this one big shit hole dug with just a make-shift head (4) made out of a piece of plywood somebody found. They just cut four or five holes in it so you’re sitting so close to the next Marine it’d be easier to wipe his ass than your own. It has a sign by it that says “cover your shit with lime” and there’s a bucket of lime there with and e-tool (5). Only problem is, there’s not enough lime to cover all the shit and the fucking flies land on it and then come land on our food. That’s pretty much adding insult to injury if you ask me. All we have are MREs (6) which have about three thousand calories and a week’s worth of sodium but then to have these little fuckers landing and taking a shit on it (the shit that came from them eating our shit and shitting it back on our food for us to eat and shit out again) is just about more than I can take. About half the company has been to BAS (7) with and I.V. stuck in their arm. Every once in a while they’ll go pour diesel fuel on the shit and set it on fire. That’s supposed to burn up all the shit. Only problem is, we’re as short on extra diesel as we are on lime so basically it just creates this big black cloud of shit and diesel and lime that no matter where you are on our little “compound” here, it’s gonna find you. The smell and the taste of it is something right out of hell. Oh yeah, our “compound.” I should probably tell you a little bit about where we are. We’ve put in (8) at this place out in the middle of the desert that seems to have been some kind of little military detachment the Iraqis had. All the buildings (painted this yellowish color—I hope that’s not their idea of camouflage). They’ve all been bombed to shit mostly. The walls are pretty much still standing but no doors, no windows or roofs. It’s not from our bombs. The damage isn’t that new. It’s from the Iran-Iraq war back in the 90s. We’re about eight miles from the Iranian boarder. We surrounded the perimeter with consterntina wire (9) and then inside the perimeter we surrounded our little make-shift “armory” with consterntina wire too. We’ve put up a shit-ton of cammie netting (10) stretched between poles to cover everything we brought in. That’s supposed to make us invisable from the sky. That’s fucking bullshit since there hasn’t been an Iraqi plane or helecopter in the air since the middle of last month since we blew this country to hell. We did too, boy. There’s no government, no Iraqi military and whatever they had in the way of infrastructure (mostly put together with Band-Aids and bailing wire) is blown to shit. The locals have even learned the English word for “electricity” and when we roll into Barah (11) they always come up with their palms facing the sky saying “lectricity, lectricity.” I’ve just taken to pretending I don’t know what they mean. Oh yeah, Badrah. That’s about all we see of the Iraqis now that, as far as I can tell, the war is over. There are a few assholes that are loyal to Osama Bin Laden that go up on the rooftops when we roll through and take pock shots at us.
Tuesday, 15 April, 2003
0900 Zulu (12)
Sorry to drop off on you so fast there last night. Of course after the Marines came out of their little tan shells they had to start thinking up shit for us non-NCOs (13) to do. I swear to God if we were on the fucking moon they would have us start humping (14) fucking moon rocks around. The worst is Corporal Corpus. I think I told you about him in my last letter. (God knows if you even got it.) He’s one of those “spit and polish Marines” although the Marine Corps doesn’t spit or polish anything anymore as far as I can tell. If you ask me, that was a clear symbol that the good ole USMC was headed straight for the shitters. That along with when Bill Fucking Clinton let the fags into the military. Anyhow, back to Corporal Corpus. I really actually liked the guy when he joined our unit—although usually it seems more like we joined him. You know I’ve always been kind of a loner so it didn’t bother me much that there wasn’t too much “unit cohesion” before he came along. Now it’s like he’s got his own little group of disciples following him around all the time. He can’t fart without them being there to smell it. I know the exact moment it happened too. He couldn’t have been with the unit more than a day when he started in gathering up a bunch of “pals” for himself among what had otherwise been a pretty every-man-keep-to-himself unit. We had pulled the vehicles up by this little river. We were pretty close to the Tigris but this wasn’t the Tigris. Too small. I guess it could have been a little slough (15) off of the Tigris. Anyway, Peters and Andrews, two of the mechs (16) with the unit had rigged them up some little fishing rods out of tent poles and 550 cord (17). God knows where they got they the hooks, probably made them out of safety wire (18). So along comes Corporal Corpus and as soon as he sees what they’re doing, just like he’d been fishing that hole for his whole life says, “Hey Devildogs, why don’t y’all throw your hooks over to the other side.” “The other side” couldn’t have been more than fifteen feet and to me from where I was sitting it looked just about as murky and muddy and devoid of life as the side they were sitting on but I’ll be goddamned if when they did what he said, they didn’t start pulling in one fish after the other. They weren’t much as far as fish go if you ask me but
Sorry to bolt on you like that but Pvt. Silas (from Oklahoma no less) chopped the end of his finger off trying to reset a tire by himself. I guess that’s his ticket home. He road out on an ambulance Humvee grinning like a Cheshire cat. Of course Corporal “holier-than-thou” Corpus used that as the perfect opportunity to give us all a “safety brief” on how we were all supposed to be more careful and to follow SOP and ROE (19) to the letter because this was a fucking war zone, as if any of us didn’t know that already. But by the end of it, most of the Marines were all laughing and playing grab-ass. I tell you he’s the only man I’ve ever met that can give you an ass chewin’ and make you feel like you’ve just had a hand job. And I’ve got to admit, as much as I don’t want to, I kind of like the guy myself. I reckon I’m just kind of jealous of how easy it seems for him to make friends of the other Marines. As much as I had hoped joining up would make that somehow easier for me, I still feel pretty much like I’m still the little freak that sucked at sports and couldn’t get a girl to look at me twice all the time I was growing up. After he finished with the briefing, I started walking back over toward my vehicle. I have duty tonight and I wanted to see if I could sleep at least a little bit before it started. All the other Marines seemed like they were going to sit around and chew the fat some more. I was only a few steps away when Corporal Corpus says, “Hey Iscariot, hang out a little bit.” I tell you at first I thought I hadn’t heard him right. As you know I’ve never much been the sort that people wanted to hang out with. But when I decided I had heard him right, I walked back over and pulled up an ammo can and sat in the circle with them. The Corporal took out his can of Skoal, held it between his thumb and middle finger and made this shaking motion with his hand like he was trying shake off a booger or something. His index finger was tapping hard against the top of the can. I figured out he must be packing down all that tobacco inside the can. I’d heard that noise a lot around the camp but didn’t want to ask anybody what it was for fear I’d look stupid. He could see me watching him so he musta thought I wanted some. He held out the can to me and so I wouldn’t look like a pussy I took some. After I had it in my mouth about ten seconds I started feeling like I wanted to puke but I wasn’t about to let them know that. I’ll take a cigarette over that shit any day. Then Corporal Corpus started in on this conspiracy theory about how us being in Iraq was all about the corporations that were over there helping us out with supplies and all such as that. Although he never made out like they were “helping us.” To hear him tell it, they were just over there making money off of us dying. I wanted to remind him that those contractors were Americans like we were and not the enemy but I have to say it felt pretty good to be able to sit among them and be treated like a friend. I had really believed in all that “Espirit the Corps” the recruiter had told us about but I sure hadn’t felt too much of it. Anyway it was nice to feel a part of instead of feel apart from (ha, ha, get it?) so I kept my mouth shut. Anyway it was about time for me to grab my flak (20) and head out toward the post for fire watch (21).
Wednesday, Thursday, 17 April, 2003
I almost wrote Wednesday but then I realized it after midnight (even without fucking Zulu time) so I guess it’s actually Thursday. I cannot tell you how fucked up I am right now. I don’t know what to do. I have done the stupidest thing of my entire fucked up life and I’m so disgusted with myself, it’s all I can do to keep this M-16 of mine out of my own disgusting mouth. I am so sorry to have to lay this burden on you but there is no way in hell I can ever tell this to anybody over here and I have to confess this to somebody in case I don’t make it out of this shit hole. And I know that we’ve never talked too much about God or praying or any of that but I got to ask you to please, please pray for me for I am clearly loosing my fucking mind over here. And I guess I’m just going to have to trust that you will take this story to the grave with you because if you tell anybody what I’m about to tell you, I will die an embarrassment to everyone who ever knew me.
I was out on post tonight last night. The Marine that had duty with me, Lance Corporal Thomas had fucking left me there by myself. We ain’t never, ever supposed to do that but it was way past time for the next two Marines to be on duty and there was no sight of them. I knew they had to have slept through their watch alarms and left us out there for what was now coming on to about half of our duty shift. Sleep is fucking precious out here but there was not much we could do since the only person we had on radio was the one radio operator who was plugged in to all four posts and he couldn’t leave his station to go trying to wake up those two sleeping assholes. So Thomas and I flipped a coin to see who would go and wake their dumbasses up and who would stay on post. I lost so I had to stay on post alone while he went back to the tents to find the missing fuckers that had fucked up our night. But you won’t even believe how much more fucked up it got after that. And please I know I done said it but please, please, please, don’t ever tell anybody about this and burn this fucking letter after you read it and even if I die over here you must never, ever breath this sick shit to anyone that I’m about to tell you.
After Thomas left to go back to the tents, the desert got quieter than I’ve ever heard it. No bugs or dogs or wind or anything. Then all of a sudden I heard what sounded like something swimming around in that little slough, the one I told you about before where the Marines were fishing. I thought What the fuck? Who the fuck would be down there swimming in the middle of the fucking night? Then I just kind of laughed at myself because your mind can play tricks on you out here, especially if you’ve had as little sleep as I have lately. I realized it must have just been one of them fish. But then it seemed to get louder and I thought If that’s a fucking fish, it’s a goddamn fifty pound catfish. I squinted off in the distance to see what I could see. Fucking Thomas had taken the NVGs (22) with him. Now I know that I must have just completely lost my mind by then because of the thing I decided to do next. I fucking low-crawled out of that fighting hole and started making my way real slow and stealthy over toward the sound of whatever was moving around in that water. When I got closer, I could see that it was a person down there just sort of bathing in that water! Now I told you that your mind and your eyes can play tricks on you out here and usually when I see some crazy shit like that I just laugh it off or rub my eyes and it goes away but this shit wasn’t going away. I had seen some of the Iraqi kids swimming down here but there was no way any kid was going to be out here at this time of night swimming in that fucking little river. I crawled a few more feet and then I could see the naked back of somebody waist-deep in that water. The moon was shining off her back and it was the most beautiful thing I’d seen since I got to this God-forsaken place. It was like she was baptizing herself in this combination of holiness and sexuality. I just laid there staring and hoping that Lance Corporal Thomas took his time coming back with those other Marines. And I am so embarrassed to tell you what I done next. Being the only Marine on the whole west side of this camp, responsible for not letting anything come onto the grounds unseen from that entire side, I did something I’ve never done before. I put my M-16 on the fucking deck (23), unbuckled my shit and had my cammies (24) down below my ass and had my cock in my hand. Even now writing this I can’t believe how stupid I was being. The fucking Iraqi men had been told by Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Fuckhead that we were coming over here to take their oil and their women. If anyone of them had seen me up there jacking off looking at one of their wives—holy shit. But let me tell you the most honest truth that I have ever said, that would have been a fucking great thing compared to what really happened. A cloud that had been partially covering the moon moved on by and it got lighter out there in that desert by that little river. A lot lighter. And just about that time that Iraqi woman stood up in that water and turned around and you know what? It wasn’t no fucking Iraqi woman at all! It was fucking Corporal Corpus in the fucking flesh. I swear to God I thought my fucking heart was going to stop. And this is the point where I know that I have completely let this place destroy what’s left of my stupid brain because what do you think I did next? I just kept kneeling there and KEPT ON DOING WHAT I WAS DOING! Now I know in my heart that you know me. You have known me well and for a long time. You know me well enough to know that there is not a queer bone in my entire body. But I just kept looking at him, wet skin shinning in the moonlight. And it wasn’t that he still looked at all like that Iraqi woman I had imagined him to be. No sir. He looked like a naked fucking recruiting poster. He is ever bit the Marine that I always wanted to be but never will be. And it was like in that moment, he knew that and I knew that and the fucking river and the desert and that moon and the whole fucking universe knew that. It wasn’t that I wanted him so much as I wanted to BE him. He put his hand over his eyebrows kinda like civilians do when they’re trying to salute you, he was shielding his eyes from the moonlight and looking up towards me. “Iscariot? What the fuck?” and then he waded back over toward the bank where he’d left his shit and I scrambled to pull my own shit back together. Just then I heard some voices in the distance behind. Fuck! It was the two men who had been supposed to relieve us a fucking hour ago. Thomas wasn’t even with them though. That fucker must have just gone back to sleep. Thank Christ by the time those Marines had made it to the fighting hole I had beat them there and I looked like as I was guarding that fucking post like no post had ever been guarded.
Just as they were about to reach my position, one of them heard [Corpus] slip a little on the gravel in his flip-flops as he was coming up the embankment. “Who goes there?!” that was Lance Corporal Philips. As scared as I was and maybe because I was scared and feeling like I had finally gone crazy, I laughed a little because I didn’t know anybody actually said that shit anymore. Maybe I laughed. Maybe I was crying a little bit. “Corporal Corpus here!” The other Marine, Private James said, “I don’t mean any disrespect Corporal but what the fuck are you doing out here?” The corporal was standing there in his PT (25) shorts and t-shirt, still a little wet. “Aw I’m fucking sick of those fucking solar showers. I could piss a stream hotter and harder than that. This Marine was keeping an eye on me weren’t you Iscariot?” He sort of smiled and winked at me when he said that. I could feel the blood literally rush up my neck and into my face like my whole fucking head was going to explode. My body was so full of anxiety it felt like I was pissing on an electric fence. I was ready for him to say, “Hey, y’all wanna know what I just caught this Marine doing?” or some shit like that. Maybe he was just waiting for the right time. Maybe he was going to hold it over my head so he would have even more control over me than he does or maybe he would go to the Gunny (26) and have me put in the brig (27). But we don’t got no fucking brig out here. Fuck, all he’d have to do is to tell the right Marines and they’d probably take me off and fucking kill me.
Oh my God I am so fucked! I’m back in my tent writing this to you right now. I’m going to have to bury this letter or hide it somewhere until I can mail it to you. I don’t even know why I feel like I should. I know you’re going to be so fucking disgusted when you read it. Maybe I won’t send it. Fuck! I’ve got to get some sleep (yeah, right!) I’ve got to let my brain rest some if I can so I can figure out what I’m going to do about this shit. I hope you don’t hate me if I do sent this to you. I hope I can sleep.
Thursday, 17 April, 2003
I can barely see the date any more on my watch. The lense of it is so fucked up. I know how it feels. I did get a little sleep. I took a couple of those ambiants that the doc gave me and three or four of those others for anxiety. Last night just seems like this horrible nightmare. I haven’t seen Corporal Corpus yet. I hope I don’t.
Well, I saw him. He was walking back from the Head Shed (28). I figured right off he had been over there telling them what had happened and that there was a fag in the unit. Me. Which you know I am definitely not. I figured I’d just be a man about it and go up and try to—I don’t know, apologies or some shit. I figured I’d tell him about how I’d thought he was that Iraqi woman and see if that made any difference. Ha! I’m sure me telling him I thought he was a woman would make it all better. Besides, even if he did believe me, that would mean I left our post completely unmanned to go jack off looking at some bitch in a stream. That’s exactly the kind of shit the Hajis (29) would pull—put some bitch out there in the water and wait for some dumb American (like your truly) to start jacking off looking at her and then shoot his fucking dumbass and take the post and most likely the compound. Let’s face it, there was just about nothing I could say that could get me out of the shit I’m in. I just started walking straight toward the Corporal, thinking—fuck, I don’t know what I was thinking. As soon as we were a couple of paces from each other, I said, “Hey Corporal Corpus, I just wanted to” and he didn’t even let me get anything else out. He just said, “Look man, just fucking forget about it.” He was laughing when he said this and he just kept walking right on past me. I turned around and yelled after him, “Did you tell them?” “Tell who?” “Major Chiafus. And the other Brass (30). ” “Are you fucking kidding me?” he said, “What the hell was I going to tell anybody? That while I was out swimming naked in the river last night I caught this Marine perving (31) on me and yankin’ his dick? They wouldn’t hear anything past me being out there unarmed, naked in the fucking water. Look, seriously, forget it Man. And besides, it’s nice to know you find me attractive.” Then he turned and kept walking. I just stood there, baked by that fucking Iraqi sun but twice as hot as my blood started to boil when I realized what he was saying. He thought I was a fucking fag. And at first I thought he was just kidding about liking that I found him attractive which I fucking don’t! but then I starting thinking that he really IS one. Just by the way he said it. You can say the same words and it can sound different and when he said it, well, I’m just saying that I believe Corporal Corpus really is a faggot.
I am going to have to do something about this now. I’ve just got to figure out what. Sorry about the sweat and the dirt. I’ve been hiding this whenever – shit! They’re calling me. More later.
You’re not going to fucking believe this. I missed fucking mail call. Not that there was anything for me but I wanted to send this fucking letter out! GodDAMMIT! And get this—the Corporal got a package from his mom. Even though we’re not supposed to have any kind of alcohol over here, she had sent him a bottle of this Jewish wine. It’s called Man of Chevis or some shit. I didn’t even know he was Jew. She also sent these things that looked like saltines but tasted like shit. No salt on it whatsoever. I just went over there to see if by some miracle I mighta gotten a letter or something. I’m not bitchin’ at you. I’m sure you’ve written to me and they just got lost. The mail is so fucked up over here. Anyway, Corporal Corpus was sitting there at this little “table” they’d made out of MRE boxes with a bunch of the guys, about eleven of them. He goes, “Hey Iscariot, come get some.” I didn’t even turn around. “Naw, I’m good.” “Get your fucking ass over here!” he said. He didn’t sound pissed or anything but I knew if I didn’t it would look weird to the others him being a Corporal and outranking me and all. Plus if I didn’t he might start running his suck (32) about all the shit that happened down by the river. So I walked back over and sat down at the end of the boxes. He picked up one of those crackers and held it out in front of him. Then he closed his eyes. If I didn’t know better I’d have thought he was praying over it. Then he broke it in half and then passed some down to me. Then he picked up the bottle of wine and closed his eyes again. Fuck I guess he was praying. He poured it into little Dixie cups that his mom had also sent and past it around to all of us. We all raised up our little cups and Lance Corporal Johns (who is the Corporals favorite) said, “To Corporal Corpus, the best platoon leader in the whole goddamn Marine Corps.” And then there was a bunch of “here, here’s” and “Oorahs.” Bartholomew said, “Semper Fi” and after a second of silence they all said “Semper Fi.” I said it too. After that it dissolved into this kind of love fest for Corporal Corpus and they all started talking about what a crime it was that he hadn’t picked up (33) and how they were going to do everything in their power to spread the word about what a good man and what a good Marine he was. The more they blew him the sicker I got. For him to be a man that I once liked pretty good, I can say I have truly come to hate the sight of him. And as fucked up as this sounds, his being so cool to me about what happened, all that smiling and “forget it” shit just made it worse. I didn’t want him to forgive me. I wanted him to hate me as much as I fucking hated him. I wanted him to beat my que ass or maybe I even wanted him to kill me. Death would be better than being here in hell and all the shit that’s happened has made it so bad I feeling like I’m loosing my fucking mind. I guess they were getting a little buzzed because let me tell you the love fest continued. Corporal Corpus was eating it up too, I could tell. He started ribbing them, “Oh come on Marines I know if I’z in the shit, y’all’d probably turn tail and run.” That brought denials all around. “Fuck, I’d die for you in a second, Corpus.” That was Corporal Simon that said that. Then they all chimed in, “I’d die for you.” “I would too.” Finally I couldn’t take any more of it. “Jesus Fucking Christ!” I guess I said it a little louder than I though[sic] because everybody got real quiet. I’m ashamed to say I pissed a little bit in my cammies. I knew now he was going to use what he had on me. Now he was going to spill it about me being a queer even though I ain’t. But then he done something even worse. He just looked at me kinda hurt like, like I’d fucked up his nice little supper, probably the last supper we’d have before we had to move forward. He just looked at me and said, “Don’t you have somewhere to be?” That was his very nice and very polite way of telling me to fuck off. So I did. I’m back in my tent writing this to you. I’m about to take a few of those sleeping pills so I can get some rest tonight. Thank fucking Christ I don’t have guard duty. I need for my brain to be able to think up a plan tomorrow.
Friday, 18 April, 2003
I didn’t sleep. The fucking pills just made me hallucinate all goddamn night and I’m tireder than I was before. I’ve brushed my teeth til my gums are bleeding but I can’t get the fucking nasty taste of those Haji cigarettes out of my mouth. Or the taste of that Jew food he gave me. But I do finally have a plan. I can’t believe I didn’t think about it before but I do now have me a plan. And once again I will say to you that this is a story you must take with you to your grave. I remembered hearing Sergeant Pilate from Motor T (34) say how much he hated the idea of a faggot in our beloved Marine Corps and if he ever found out which one was one of [Th]em, that he’d fucking kill him. So I just took me a little walk over to Motor T and had me a little chat with the Sergeant. I knew I was risking a lot to do it but at this point I don’t really give a fuck. I told him that I knew for sure that there was a faggot in our platoon and that I hated the idea of it as much as he did. He looked me square in the eye and said, “Who is it?” I told him that I didn’t even want the fucker’s name to cross my lips but when we stood formation this morning, right after it was over, I’d go put my hand on the shoulder of the one. We then made a pack that next time we was in the shit (35), we’d make sure to position ourselves behind the one and that we’d then nod at one another and put two rounds between his flak and his belt. That way neither one of us would have to bear the burden alone. Since the nature of the firefights over here are that there’s a three hundred and sixty degree threat and rounds can come from anywhere, nobody would really know that the rounds came from us and not from Haji and even if they did figure out it was 5.56s and not 7.62s (36), that’s not the kind of shit the US military tells the families anyway. And even if the sick son-of-bitch was a faggot, he was still a Marine and killing another Marine wasn’t gonna be easy for Sergeant Pilot or m
This is the last time I’ll ever put pen to paper. These will be my last words. I’m going to seal this letter, addressed to you and I know according to UCMJ (37), they can’t open it.
I am the lowest of the low. Right when I was writing you they called us into formation. They said a bunch of the usual bullshit that I didn’t even hear. All I could think about was that I was about to identify Corporal Corpus to Sergeant Pilate. When the Staff Sergeant said, “Fall out!” I walked over to Corporal Corpus. I could feel Sergeant Pilate watching me. I put my hand on the Corporal’s shoulder and said, “Respectfully Corporal, I am truly sorry for all that has happened.” Expecting him to say one of those kind, compassionate things I’d come to expect from him, I prepared to hide my nausea. Instead he just looked at me, like he could see into my soul. His look let me know that he already knew that I had betrayed him somehow. Someone knocked my hand from his shoulder real hard. “Get your fucking hand off the NCO, Private!” Whoever it was had already walked away as I barely whispered, “I’m a Lance Corporal.”
The call came on the radio that a convoy going through Badrah had taken sniper fire. We were to go in there and flush the fuckers out. They were sending two QRFs (38) and of course one included me and the other included Sergeant Pilate. I felt like fate was pulling me faster and faster toward my miserable destiny.
We had barely turned the corner down the first little street in Badrah before the first cracks of the rifles were heard. Somebody opened up with one of the co-ax 50 cals and I heard somebody scream “Get out! Fucking dismount! Dismount!” I took cover next to one of the wheels of an LAV and I could see Sergeant Pilate across the street to my right. As usual, Corporal Corpus was leading from the front. An Iraqi man dressed in blue and black clothes and covered face fired straight in my direction from an open door to the house at my twelve o’clock. I spun around behind the LAV. Someone opened up with the 50 cal again pretty much making dust of that wall where the door was. The Iraqi man ran from behind what was left of the doorway and toward this fifteen-foot wall to my two o’clock. I started to squeeze off a round when somebody screamed, “Hold your fire! He’s got a fucking kid!” The Iraqi man had this infant, she couldn’t have been more than a year old. He had her in the piece of white cloth like you see the pictures of storks carrying babies. It was such a bizarre sight to see. He was using the kid as a shield as he started scaling the wall. He seemed to know where every little ledge or protruding stone was. Just as the sniper reached the top of the wall, Corporal Corpus yelled out, “Cover me!” and he tore up the wall after him. Another shot from the other side of the street and hit the wall about a foot from the Corporal’s head. “There’s another one! There’s another sniper!” somebody screamed. Then another round came from the second sniper. It was now or never. I looked at Sergeant Pilate and he just smiled and nodded. We both raised our weapons and moved the sites toward Corporal Corpus just as he grabbed hold of the top of the wall with both hands, weapon slung over his back. Then CRACK! I heard the unmistakable sound of the M16 fire. One M16. Sergeant Pilate’s M16. I didn’t even have the guts to pull my own trigger. The Corporal’s flak must have gotten caught on the wall. He was just hanging there at the top of the wall like a scarecrow. Long streams of blood were coming down from both hands where he had cut them on the jagged top of the wall. As fucked up as this sounds, he actually looked kind of beautiful hanging there, like a bird flying up towards Heaven. Then the other sniper opened fire on his already lifeless body making it sort of dance a little bit before falling to the ground below. Both QRFs turned everything we had on that side of the street and basically mowed the front off of those houses. And then there was quiet.
On the way back to camp, Sergeant Pilate sat across from me in the back of the Humvee. He seemed content and peaceful, pleased with himself like a deer hunter would coming home with a kill. He reached inside his flak jacket and pulled out a full package of Marlboros. Then he pulled out another pack, half full. Together it would have been about thirty cigarettes. He tossed them over into my lap and smiled, “Here you go. I quit.”
I’ve squared away all of my gear. I want to make it as easy as possible for whatever poor fucking Private who has to pack all this shit up and send it home to America. I’m going to seal this letter and put it in my cargo pocket. Eventually it will make its way to you. I thought about going out into the desert to do it, but that would just mean that they would have to look for me. I’m going to do it here in the tent. That should make clean up pretty easy. It wasn’t until I saw Corporal Corpus’ body hanging there on that wall, that the full weight of what I had done became clear. I only do this because I know that I don’t deserve to live. It is certainly not to pay any debt. A thousand deaths of a wretched satin[sic] like me could never pay the price for the death of the one man I ever met who was truly close to perfect. So this round that I thought was intended for the Corporal, I now know is for me. I know you’ll not be able to forgive me and I can’t say that I can blame you. Just if you could find it somewhere in your heart, say a prayer for my soul, that it stay forever in Hell after leaving this hell on earth.
In Deep Sorrow and Remorse,
Lance Corporal Judas Iscariot
1. False rumors.
2. Light Armored Vehicles, a tank-like, 14 ton, eight wheeled combat vehicle.
3. High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles.
5. Small collapsible shovel
6. Meals Ready to Eat, food vacuum-sealed in tan plastic bags (modern “sea rations”)
7. Battalion Aid Station, (mobile medical clinic)
8. “put in” means to be located at some place
9. Concertina wire is a type of razor-sharp barbed wire
10. large pieces of netting with scalloped pieces of sand-colored, fireproof fabric, used to conceal things on the ground from areal view
11. Badrah, Iraq, a small town near the Iranian Border. 33° 7′ 14″ North, 45° 57′ 27″ East. About a hundred and twenty-three miles’ drive South/Southeast from Baghdad.
12. “Zulu time” is a means of keeping time so that there is no confusion regarding time zones and military operations. In Zulu time, it is the same time around the globe. To compute Zulu time from this part of Iraq, one would add three hours to the present time on the 24 hour clock. Ex) 14:59 Zulu would be 17:59 local time.
13. NCO stands for “Non-commissioned Officer,” in the Marine Corps it is Corporal (E4) and above.
14. To “hump” means to carry something.
15. A small inlet waterway or swamp near a larger body of water such as a river.
17. Parachute cord also used in many additional ways by the military
18. commonly used as an extra precaution to keep vital fasteners from unintentionally loosening and parts from falling off due to vibration or other forces.
19. Standard Operating Procedure and Rules Of Engagement
20. Flak jacket is a vest worn as body armor to protect the torso.
21. Guard duty.
22. Night Vision Goggles
23. usually the floor of any building or ship, outside it also refers to the ground
24. camouflage combat uniform
25. Physical Training, these are olive green and very short
26. Gunnery Sergeant
27. Military jail
28. Where the unit’s Officers bunk and do business, in 2003 Iraq usually a larger tent or Iraqi structure that wasn’t too damaged.
29. Slang term for all Iraqis
31. lusting after, from “pervert”
33. moved up in rank
34. Motor Transportation Platoon
35. in a firefight
36. the caliber of ammunition used by the M-16 and the AK-47 respectively. The AK is the preferred weapon of the Iraqi resistance.
37. Uniform Code of Military Justice
38. Quick React Force
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