January 15, 2004
You know, really, not that many American soldiers have been killed in this war in Iraq so far, comparatively. Add up all the coalition combat and non-combat deaths, and you get something like 592 soldiers. Compared to Vietnam’s 58K or Korea’s 54K, that’s nothing.
At least, that’s the narrative I hear in the back of my head sometimes.
But I opened my Esquire magazine this month and found one story that really reminds me why war is always a sad thing, even if the deaths don’t number many tens of thousands, even if it turns out to be necessary. The magazine asked the families of the fallen to pass along the soldiers’ last letters home. Read one:
Marine Staff Sergeant Aaron Dean White, 27
20 MAR 03
Dear Mom + Dad,
Its the 20th of March here so you can probably guess what my day has been like. We heard first thing this morning about the initial strikes on Iraq. It was somewhat anti-climactic since we were seeing nothing here. Around 11 a.m. we got our first air-raid alarm. It was a Mopp 0 alarm, so we only had our flak vest and helmets on. After the all clear was given 3 of us took a Humvee to chow and to get part of our paycheck.
Sergeant Aaron White
We ate uneventfully and was on our way back to work, almost out of the tent compound where we live. Bet you can guess what happened next. We got an “Alarm Red” with “Bunker Now” orders and MOPP 4 instructions. That meant we hauled ass to the nearest bunker while trying to put on our gas mask and chem suits. It was funny as hell to watch while at the same time I was scared to death. Breathing so hard my mask was sucking up to my face. While in the bunker we felt the impacts of at least two inbound rounds. They were far off. You guys would have been amazed. We were laughing and joking like we were camping or something. After about 45 minutes we were again released as All Clear. We made it out to our Humvee and we’re getting in when … You guessed it! Another “Alarm Red.” I made record time for 40 yards. This time we had more company in the Bunker. I was again joking around until some guy started praying. That ruined the mood for me. I wanted to ask him to stop but I guess it was doing him good. Me on the other hand, well it was making me nervous. Like he knew something I didn’t. That was the only time I felt fear. After 20 or so minutes we came out and returned to our work area. A few other Alarms were sounded but it became routine before the end of the day.
So here we are, sitting halfway in our mopp gear, letting the adrenaline leave our bodies. And, you know what, here comes a letter from you two. Made my day. I can’t wait to get out of this airbase. It sucks just sitting here waiting for scuds to hit.
Please know that I’m not scared and that I am not alone. Keeping my Marines in line and motivated keeps me occupied and helps me keep a good perspective. The news makes it seem worse than it is. We are all doing fine. I love you guys and should have some good storys to tell. Everything is funnier when you’re here.
Love you, Aaron