Letters From Fallujah (7) The Memorial Service

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23 Oct 03


Uncle Hank,


We went back to FOB Volturno the other day.  We’re on our third month here, there’s been guys injured, evac’d, a couple in Germany in the hospital but we had our first Paratrooper killed.  Sarn’t Spear and the Delta Comp’ny CO and 1SG went back for the memorial service.  We took two trucks, took some volunteers for the convoy ‘cuz they knew Staff Sarn’t Peterson.  One of my buddies was in Sarn’t Peterson’s squad in Alpha Comp’ny.  I was glad I got to see him, he’s pretty tore up.


From what I gather Alpha had been conducting check points on the “interstate” highway outside Fallujah.  I don’t know if they developed a pattern or if haji just got lucky but Sarn’t Peterson and his squad were setting up and haji command detonated an IED.  It was an artillery round in a rusty old five-gallon bucket, surrounded by scrap metal, bolts and nails.  Sarn’t Peterson was right next to it, it wasn’t f*ckin perdy.  A couple guys caught some of the shrapnel but they’re ok.


We walked in and sat down in chairs set up in front of a small stage.  Sarn’t Peterson’s boots and rifle were standin up front.  His dog tags were tangled around the stock and pistol grip of his M4.  It looked empty, like a black hole in some sci fi movie, tryin to suck us all into the nothingness.  It was the death of our paratrooper’s immortality.  I thought we’d all live forever, somewhere down deep we all thought we would, we’re steely-eyed killers, isn’t that how it works?  We jump out of airplanes fer christ’s sake.  Being good at your job isn’t any protection, being a badass isn’t any protection, Murphy’s Laws will get you every time.  Murphy and f*ckin haji.


The B’tallion Commander talked, the Chaplain prayed and then the sonsabitches Called Roll.  What a soul-rending f*ckin ceremony.  Sarn’t First Class Lopez, the p’toon sarn’t, stands above the rifle and boots and calls roll.  Each Soldier sounds off “Here Sarn’t” as his name is called.  Half of them choke trying to get it out.  I hate seein and hearin growd men cry.  Sarn’t Lopez is killin himself holdin it back but he has a job to do so he does it.  Then he calls out with his best command voice, “Sergeant Peterson.”  There’s no answer.  He calls again, “Sergeant Thomas Peterson” no answer.  Nothing but the whisper of the wind, the sound of tears soakin into ACUs and the feeling of crushed dreams.  After an interminable silence Sarn’t Lopez calls a third time, “Sergeant Thomas David Peterson.”  Whispering winds and deep breaths followed by slow measured exhales.  The tears are dryin, leavin a clean trail down dusty cheeks, a dreadful resolve began to grow, I could feel it. I could see it in the eyes of those men around me, our eyes met and we exchanged an acknowledgement of understanding at a glance.  A seething white hot anger, a promise to impose our justice on the guilty, a promise to exact a price from the guilty.  A unified resolve agreed upon without a word being spoken, an understanding without discussion.  A promise to hurt those who hurt us.  I could feel it in the eyes and the spirits of those around me.


The mess hall did go all out, they had surf and turf, steak and shrimp, baked potatoes.  I think the cows died of old age before they were cut into steaks but it beat the hell out of MRE’s.  It was a nice wake for Sarn’t Peterson, he was a damn fine NCO and a good leader.  He’ll thrive in Valhalla.


About the Author:

I joined the Army in 1988, served in the 25th IL (L) , 24th ID, The Infantry Training Brigade, The 82nd Airborne Division, Ft Polk and again The 82nd Division until I retired in 2008. I was a mortar maggot and retired with the rank of Master Sergeant.
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