Yesterday during an interview a San Francisco Examiner journalist asked me what has been the most pivotal moment of my life.
War: Februrary 24, 1991.
Thirty years ago today, we launched from the Saudi Arabian desert into the kingdom of Kuwait.
“They Gave Me Medals for Being in a Nightmare”
Pardon me if
I have not suffered enough
If I have not taken this
It is all
We must accept
It will murder us
In the most absurd
Which has no end
Except the end
Amor is the only alternative
If you know me, I sing and appreciate amor, love, but, you must understand, it is only because I know what it is to hate so much, to hate even and especially myself. To hate myself for being afraid and for praying.
I was 19 years old, a line company grunt machinegunner 0331 in Bravo Company, 1st Batallion, 5th Marines, the most decorated infantry unit in Marine Corps history. We were part of Task Force Ripper, the first forces to fight into Kuwait. For seven months, we had lived and trained in the hell heat desert. As grunts we practiced fire-team rushes in the middle of nothing and exercised jumping into make-shift trenches in order to prepare for heavily fortified Iraqi obstacles, including endless miles of deadly minefields. We trained for trench warfare, World War One style combat, but we were ready for anything, even nuclear war.
Before we moved in, we were told that if the Iraqis fired chemical weapons against us, as they had done in their past wars, the United States would retaliate with strategic nuclear weapons. On February 24, 1991, we charged into every child’s worst nightmare, especially considering that during the 1980’s, Cold War propaganda and reality constantly threatened nuclear holocaust.
During the first chemical gas attack, I prayed. There was nothing else I could do. With our gas masks sealed to our faces, we were trapped in our track, useless as grunts in what was mostly a tank battle outside, the last mass toe-to-toe battle in modern warfare. We were all trapped in our minds waiting for the world to end. I stayed silent and did not show my fear, but inside I was dying, wanting to die rather than being afraid of death, wanting to live rather than being afraid of life, and it was in that pivotal moment that I made a pact with God, a pact that has bound me even til this day, to these words. I promised God that if He would get me through this that I would not waste my life, that I would do some beautiful things for His glory and honor. It was like the Christmas Carol Scrooge moment when Scrooge repents of his bah humbug sins.
Perhaps many of the fifteen of us inside of that track were praying, except for one man who started attacking and fighting other Marines. Silence is the worst torture, and he could not take it. He attempted to remove the gas mask off of one of his own Marines in his team. In the middle of battle, we could not have division, so they were simply separated, and he was removed from his seat down the track and placed directly in front of me. I hated him. He was a good outlet to hate at that moment. I did not trust this man, and I knew I would have to kill him if he tried to attack me.
Later during the third gas attack, he started frothing at the mouth and collapsed into severe violent convulsions right in front of my eyes. I was angry and afraid and needed a patsy to hate, and he was an easy target: Judas. Fuck him, I shouted. Others, too, had no pity for him. But within five seconds, Corporal Wooley leapt over four or five Marines and rescued that man. He along with the Navy corpsman treated him for shock and pumped him up with what he needed in order to survive. I was there. I thought Marines were supposed to kill people? I witnessed amor in its finest form, amor for someone who could be considered a Judas, an average human being. Corporal Wooley saved him because that is what you are supposed to do.
You must save and love even Judas.