Coming Home

Article excerpt

Byline: Benjamin Busch

A marine Officer who served two tours of duty shares memories of his time in Iraq and what the return home has meant.

The nights are still cool here and the winds blow across the Euphrates from the deserts beyond bringing summer. There is an abandoned grove of fig trees on the ruined palace grounds.Green leaves have appeared through the dry scales of foliage still clinging to the branches from last season.I am thinking of spring in Central New York and the blooming of daffodils and crocus.The dark moist earth and the smell of pastures. Shadows returning beneath the trees.

Letter from Ramadi, 2005

On my daughter's first birthday, I returned from Iraq after a bloody tour in the city of Ramadi. It was 2005, my second tour. I had been wounded there, a friend killed in front of me, our casualties coming in almost daily as we fought the city to save it. I met death in war, and it followed me home. Within four months, my father, the author Frederick Busch, died of a sudden heart attack on a sidewalk in New York City--followed closely by my mother, who was taken by an incurable brain tumor. Home could never be what it was before I left. I was not alone in that feeling.

We didn't speak much of our families while we were in Iraq. Their safety seemed dependent upon distance from us, and ours upon a certain detachment from them. I left my wedding ring at home. I did not want the war to know that it could hurt anyone but me. I stopped believing that I would survive my tour in Ramadi, but it was a friend who died in my place. His death was sudden, brutal, and his shattered vehicle burned for much of the night. We guarded the wreckage in the dark, surrounded by Iraq, waiting to recover the body of another Marine trapped beneath it. In the morning I went to his room. On a shelf there was a single family photograph. There he was, alive, with his wife and young children. But I had seen him die. His wife did not yet know that she was a widow. I was there to witness the end of their family, and I was there to see it happen to Iraqi families, too.

Our troops are leaving Iraq. I see no signs that America is exultant. Our electorate became exhausted by news of the conflict long ago, desensitized by its constancy, our brief impatience for results or departure dissipating, pacified by the conflict's inability to endanger our domestic comforts. The war became what it often is, good business and far away. As casualties mounted, people displayed yellow symbols of support for the troops on their car bumpers, but few activists demanded an end to our bloodletting. It was a very supportive complacency, and it went on for years while our military patrolled the desert. Despite the evidence that our invasion had been a complete mistake, we came to accept our deepening commitment to an unjust war. …