*Click on images to enlarge
All good things must come to an end. This sojourn to Iraq is quickly drawing to a close and Friday night I'll start my return trip to the land of the big PX. For a final time an ASR number will be scrawled on the back of my left hand. In the darkness one last "seabag drag", weighted down with ALL my gear, into the back of a waiting helo. The dark expanse of Iraq will glide below us. Into memory will fade golden fragments of light spilling out from windows and doorways of Iraqi homes. A strand of silvery beads coiling across the landscape marking the midnight path of a coalition convoy will disappear like a wisp of smoke. I suspect I'll feel both drawn home and wanting to stay. I wonder if there is word for this, a word like bittersweet; a word that captures the tension of opposites. I've just lived five months in a world populated by real men and women engaged in what the philosopher and historian Victor Davis Hanson calls "muscular idealism". Individuals who know what Stanley Crawford, the author of A Garlic Testament meant by the "pound weight of the real at ground level". Something in me is wary of the unreality that awaits me back home. I will walk the streets of my beautiful little Virgina river town in the quiet of an early spring evening to my favorite coffee shop unarmed. There won't be the staccato sound of distant gunfire, or the deafening crack of a cannon followed by the sound of an artillery round splitting the air with the intensity of a raging locomotive. I'll make a visit to the mall to replace my scratched up spectacles and have no urgent concerns about the crowds of civilians or the cars and pick-up trucks driving where ever they like. In the mall and at the coffee shop there will be conversations about who said what to who, plans for the weekend, job prospects, complaints about the boss and a plethora of subjects that I fear will strike me as inconsequential and banal. Will I jump at the sound of a car backfiring or a door slamming? Will I have to suppress the urge to tell some twenty-something-college student with his hat on sideways smoking a clove cigarette to please stop whinning about Econ 101? Will I hear the far keening of the pipes? I imagine I will.
Here are two artworks for the road. A nameless Marine taking a knee looks out across the broad expanse of Iraq. The buffer zone between every single one of us and the terrorists starts about two hundred yards in front of him. The terrorist knows what a good shot he is and keeps a wary distance. But more than that, they know this young American, barely out of high school, given the chance, will kill him at any distance surely as God made little green apples. They know they are up against the greatest warriors on the planet. These are the civilized world's name takers and heartbreakers. Somewhere this kid from your hometown learned to love his country and his brother Marines more than himself. Somehow this kid from your son's 2nd grade class decided to act on the belief that there are some things bigger than ones self, ideas that both require and are worthy of his blood and treasure. This young man from down the street who delivered your morning paper and had a crush on your daughter knows who he's willing to die for, YOU. Three I knew did just that, LCpl Deeds of Mississippi, Cpl Rogers of Oklahoma and Lt McGlothlin of Virginia. Their blood, their last full measure is now mixed forever with the soil of Iraq. They lived and breathed a life where words like courage, honor and country were not strangers in town. The other is a portrait of Lance Corporal Lucas Turchich. It's based on a photo I took of him during a fifteen minute pause sandwiched between assaults in Husayba, Iraq. This is one of the "rough men" willing to do violence on your behalf. Sleep well. He's out there on watch tonight.
I'll be making more posts in the near future. After a couple weeks of leave with my daughter it'll be into the studio and the creation of finished watercolors and paintings. There is also a whole series of photo "abstractions" that I plan on posting. Iraq was visually rich in wonderfully textured and distressed surfaces and objects. Thanks to all of you who've visited me over the past five months. Semper Fi.
You can have your Army khakis, you can have your Navy blues
But I’ve a different fighting man to introduce to you
His uniform is different than any you’ve ever seen
The Germans called us devildogs, our real name is Marine
We were born on Parris Island, the land that God forgot
The sand was 18 inches deep, the sun was blazing hot
We get up every morning way before the sun
And run a hundred miles or more before the day is done
Over a million have come and gone who’ve called themselves Marine
We live by the motto “Semper fi”, let me tell you what it means
Always faithful to our nation, and faithful to the Lord
But first of all we’re faithful to our comrades in the Corps
We died on the beach at Guadalcanal and we died in Vietnam
We died in the mud at Belleau Wood and we died in Lebanon
And when we got to heaven Saint Peter we did tell
Another Marine reporting sir, I’ve served my time in hell
*Traditional marching chant from Marine Corps Boot Camp
The Things They Live By
I've included a link below to a site where there's a music video called "On My Watch Tonight". It's written and performed by a Marine, Mike Corrado. I hope you check it out. Oh, and have box of tissues handy.