“Will you still hold me, when you see what I have done? Will you still kiss me the same when you taste my victim’s blood?”
The white cloth had been tied to a jagged stick and fluttered lazily against the grey, gloomy, Fallujah sky as it was raised over the cinder block wall. I stood 50 meters away, smoking a Pine Light cigarette I’d looted from a convenience store when we had first tore into the city a month prior.
My gunner was the first to spot the waving flag, and the boy that carried it. Perched atop the armored humvee, he pointed over my shoulder as a military-aged male, no older than 16 or 17, struggled to climb over the wall and make his way towards us…
The young man had pretty much let gravity do the work and fell to the earth from atop the wall, onto our side. In a panic, he staggered to his feet and picked up his makeshift flag. His left arm was wrapped in a bloody rag that had been fashioned into a sling. He began yelling in Arabic with the dirty, white, flag waving frantically over his head like a twisted, disheveled, version of an suburban American teen on the Fourth of July.
I studied the kid’s walk, his posture, his demeanor and came to a horrifying revelation…
His life needed to end…
You see, a day earlier, a very dear friend of mine had been killed. LCPL Jeffrey S. Blanton, 23, from Fayetteville, GA, had been shot making entry into a building being held by insurgents. His death came only two or three days after being released to full duty again after being wounded in one of the roughest gunfights I’ve ever seen…
Jeff was one of the happiest people I’d ever met. Newly wed to a gal he’d met in Hawaii after our first deployment. Jeff was quick to crack jokes, and bust balls. He always had the largest chaw of tobacco in his mouth and that was usually accompanied by a wide, goofy smile. He was someone whom I cried with and drank with. I’d trade almost anyone I’ve met since for him any day…
My platoon had cornered 12-15 insurgents in a two-block area and were waiting on approval and additional assets in order to prosecute these targets. This group was believed to be responsible for Jeff’s death and we had wounded one of them with a M240 the day before, but couldn’t locate a corpse…
I left my M-16 in the truck and began walking across the open, blown-out, dirt field. All I can recall is my platoon mates shouts for me to stop, being muted and muffled by the clink-clink of my carabiner tapping against my magazine pouches. They waved and screamed my name, telling me to get behind cover until the kid was cleared. The insurgents had been luring Marines out with potential prisoners and then a sniper or would shoot at them, or the prisoner would blow himself up when they approached.
The kid’s lip started to quiver as I got closer, his speech became frantic and he tucked the flag closer to his chest. He began to lift up his white dish-dasha to show me he had no weapons or explosives…
I didn’t care.
I reached out and grabbed the kid by his hair and he dropped the flag. I shoved him backward and he tripped and fell to his back, bringing me down with him. As if to prove a morbid point, I planted my boot in what was once his flag of surrender and my opposite knee into his wounded arm.
The boy howled in pain as I pulled my M9 from my pocket and shoved it into his eye socket.
His good eye was wide, terrified, and had tears streaming from it. I glared into the deep, brown abyss as I began spitting and spouting in his face. I told him how I hated him and his entire fucking race, that he killed one of the best people on Earth, and payback was a motherfucker. I told him I didn’t care about this war, the Geneva Convention, honor, courage, and commitment, or his fucking family. I couldn’t understand the words coming from him, and I didn’t care to. I had made up my mind to cease his existence.
I placed my finger on the trigger and began to push the barrel further into his eye. I knew it wouldn’t bring Jeff back. I knew it wouldn’t end the war. The thing that still absolutely terrifies me to this day; the thing that keeps me up at night around this time of year is this: <strong>it seemed like the absolute right thing to do.</strong>
I felt his good hand as it reached up and grabbed frantically at my body armor. I could faintly hear my brothers, meters away and behind cover, screaming at me still.
I thumbed the hammer back and that’s when I heard the familiar rumble of diesel engines rounding the corner not 50 feet from where I was.
Four humvees encircled us and set up 360 degree security. It was my Battalion Commander, Sergeant Major, and their forward command element. Apparently, my platoon commander made a call to higher, informing them that we had a prisoner in custody from the insurgent group that had been involved in the firefight killing Blanton the day before.
I stood from the kid, who still lay on his back, shaking and whispering to himself. The BC approached me with a smile and his hands on his hips.
“Hey Corporal. How’s it going with the prisoner?” he asked, knowing full-well the answer.
I stood in an absolute daze, my mouth agape, not knowing what to say. I wanted to get on my knees and beg for him to let me kill this kid. I wanted to explain to him who Jeff was, and how the world was a lesser place without him. I wanted to explain to him how fucked this war was getting and how losing all the guys for “Iraqi freedom and democracy” was bullshit. I held back tears and wondered if he would understand.
But I kept my mouth shut as the corpsman attended to the kid’s wounds. They zip-tied him and threw his skinny ass in the trunk of one of the humvees. The Battalion Commander shook my hand, thanked me for my hard work, and told me to call if I ever needed anything and promised that they would extract actionable intel from this kid. The four trucks drove off in a trail of dust and I turned to head back to my platoon.
My head hung low as I walked back to my truck and my team mates. My section leader and platoon commander both proceeded to rip into me. I can’t recall what was said on either end as all I could think about was that I had retribution within arms reach and it had been denied.
I eventually broke down later. At the thought of Jeff, and that I had been so close to avenging him, and doing him a solid, after the many he had done for me. I was also heart-broken that I was completely and utterly indifferent at the thought of committing a war crime.
To this day, my hands shake when I think about this moment in my life. My mind had been made up. I had made a conscious decision, not only in my head, but in my heart. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching to think back and know that was the day my soul broke. That was the day my humanity had died a little.
Would I do things differently? I don’t know. But at the time, my decision and the action that was to follow, was the best decision I had ever made…and I hate myself for it.