Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Supporting the Troops

Here's a story run by SF-Gate about that guy in the famous photograph the Wingers like so much, the "Marlboro Man" soldier that's meant to represent our real American soldier in Iraq.

He's back in Kentucky now that Bush is done with him.

He's quieter now -- easier to anger. He turns to fight at the sound of a backfire, can't look at fireworks without thinking of fire raining down on a city. He has trouble sleeping, and when he does, his fingers twitch on invisible triggers.

The diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder.


James Blake Miller was born in Pike County in the hills of eastern Kentucky, where Daniel Boone is said to have walked and where moonshine is still consumed. An average family here makes about $24,000; the only decent-paying jobs are down at the coal mine.


For a while, Iraq didn't seem all that bad. Miller and his fellow Marines settled into a routine in Anbar province in western Iraq, setting up hiding places among the palms and sand, and watching for the white pickups that insurgents would use to plant bombs and fire mortars.

There also was time for candy and laughter with the Iraqi children who came running to see the American troops. Miller felt like he was helping.

Then, on Nov. 5, 2004, in the middle of a sandstorm, the Marines got the word that they might be heading for an assault on Fallujah -- at the time, the capital of the Iraqi insurgency.


The assault on Fallujah began Nov. 8, 2004, when U.S. planes, using a combination of high explosives and burning white phosphorus, hammered the city in advance of the artillery push. Miller was under fire from the moment he stepped out of the personnel carrier.
It lasted into Nov. 9 -- the day that, for a while, would make Miller's face the most famous in Iraq.

As Miller remembers that day, he was on a rooftop taking fire and calling for support on his radio - a 20-pound piece of equipment that he had to lug around along with nine extra batteries, hundreds of extra rounds of ammunition, and a couple of cartons of cigarettes.

As insurgent bullets from a nearby building pinged off the roof, a horrified Miller heard footsteps coming up the stairs behind him. He raised his rifle -- and barely had time to halt when he saw it was embedded Los Angeles Times photographer Luis Sinco.

Miller returned to his radio, guiding two tanks to his position. When they opened fire, he said, the thunder left his body numb -- but the building housing the attackers had collapsed. Later, he said, they would find about 40 bodies in the rubble.

"I was never so happy in all my life to take that handset away from my head," Miller said. "I lit up a f -- cigarette."

His ear was bleeding from the sound of the tank firing -- Miller still can't hear out of his right ear. His nose bled from a nick he took when his rifle scope and radio got tangled up midfire. He looked at the sunrise and wondered how many more of those he would see.

He was vaguely aware that elsewhere on the rooftop, Sinco was taking pictures.

At a briefing the next day, Miller's gunnery sergeant walked up to him, grinning, and said: "Would you believe you're the most famous f -- Marine in the Marine Corps right now? Believe it or not, your ugly mug just went all over the U.S."

The Marines wanted to pull him out of Fallujah at that point, Miller said, not wanting the very public poster boy to die in combat. But he stayed.

He won't talk about the weeks that followed. He only mentions moments, like still frames from a film. The day his column barely survived an ambush, escaping through a broken door as bullets struck near their feet. The morning he woke up to discover that a cat had taken up residence in the open chest cavity of an Iraqi body nearby, consuming it from within.


There's more.


zelda1 said...

We just buried my uncle. He served 36 years in the military. Of that 36 years, he spent two tours in Vietnam. He never got over what happened over there. He didn't talk about it, but he was never for war. He loved being in the military and earned many metals and hearts of all kinds, but if you asked him, that is before he died, if war was the answer, he would always say, "Hell no." He, as well as my older brother, suffered from being in the battle zones. It never goes away, or so they said. When I was younger and he was over our house all decked out in his uniform, I asked him what Vietnam was like and he said, "It was like hell." I imagine that's what the men coming back from Iraq will say, or those men who were in the heat of battle.

zelda1 said...

Oh I forgot, my uncle joined the military to get out of the coal mines too. That was the only work availiable for men in the town where he grew up, so at 18, he joined the military and went overseas instead of down a mine shaft.