An Editor’s Son: Storming Fallujah

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By: Dennis Anderson

There he was on The Associated Press photo wire. My sleeping boy.

This is a frightful time to have a child in Fallujah. Iraqi, or American.

From my circle of friends, and even from the occasional editorial antagonist, sympathy and prayer have been showered on hearing any mention that my boy Garrett is with the Marines in Fallujah.

Friends pray for him. And I owe it to him to not be afraid.

Of course, he is not so much a boy now. At 19, he is all a man. Brave. Scared. Determined. Tough. Tender. He is awed by the machineries of war that surround him, and the machine of history that has carried him to this place.

Make one’s living in news and you live through so many dramas and melodramas, large scale, silly, and inconsequential. And historic.

Last year, traveling across Iraq in the weeks after Baghdad was liberated, the troops I rode with as an embedded reporter stopped at 3rd Infantry Division headquarters. Satellite TV was on in the communications shack, the news filled with Scott Peterson. Did he kill his pregnant wife, Laci? The war dampened for a bit after the liberation, but festered, and soon prepared to surge with renewed violence.

In May 2003, insurgents of Fallujah were just starting to kill Americans. Our unit, 1498th Transport, got stopped a dozen miles outside Fallujah and we hunkered for the night in the date palms with tankers from 1st Armored securing our perimeter like covered wagons with 120 mm Winchesters.

We heard about more killings. The same name kept popping up: Fallujah.

It’s a rat-shack town of mud-brown houses and streets with a population about the size of my town, Palmdale, California. At the end of March this year, a bridge over the Euphrates provided the lynching post for scorched and desecrated bodies of four security contractors, American hired guns guarding a convoy.

That triggered the first Marine assault on Fallujah and its sister city, Ramadi, capital of Anbar Province where most Americans are killed.

Now, my son is there. By his own volition. A Marine infantryman is a volunteer, what grunts call “high speed, hard core.”

When I was watching Scott Peterson’s pursuit amid preparations for deployment as an embedded journalist, my son was in high school attending the prom. A little more than a year later, in his first adult decision, he is in the gathering storm.

Every time I see the seemingly endless saga of the accused wife killer, all I can think is, “You mean this thing was going on before Baghdad fell?” The Peterson drama drones on, and in that time, a boy has grown to manhood and now stares at the dragon’s teeth across the blasted, battle-scarred heath.

Last year, when Garrett was in boot camp, he wrote, “I realize by making the choice I made, I have put myself in the danger zone.” A father’s heart sinks. And his mother, and his step-mother, and everyone who cares about him.

As a result of telecommunications magic, I have had three telephone calls since my son’s unit arrived to prepare for the inevitable.

“It’s about as serious as it gets,” he tells me. “You’ll see us on TV.”

As British historian Sir John Keegan wrote in “The Face of Battle,” few of us have ever been in a battle. Anyone who has escaped the lash of a major battle has no idea how fortunate their life is, veterans tell us. I believe it.

The boy I carried in my arms and spooned ice cream with at midnight is now the man lined up to battle the bombers, murderers and beheaders. Our women soldiers are also in harm’s way. But the burden of an assault is for infantrymen, armor and artillery: combat arms soldiers. Grunts at the front.

On eve of battle, I see my son sleeping. His picture moved on The Associated Press and a few days ago was the “Marine Corps Times Picture of the Day.” A huddle of Marines, exhausted after a night mission. And my son’s angle of repose so similar to his sleepy lull on the way home from a camping trip in the Sierras.

He is all of them, to me, and all of them are our sons. They have put it all on the line for us. Like the men on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Like the men on Iwo Jima and those other
Pacific atolls.

For this father, on this smaller but dreadful D-Day’s eve, my prayer is for my sleeping boy, and all the others gathered with him.

For all the ones who return, they will have done their work, so that you, and I, and everyone who voted Tuesday, will be somewhat safer in this haven we call home. This is the week we honor veterans. Pretty soon the veterans will be returning from Fallujah. If you love life, honor them.

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