An exhausted US soldier
David Bellavia, author of a combat memoir of the battle of Fallujah for which his platoon received a Presidential Unit Citation, House to House, served as a Staff Sergeant in the First Infantry Division, and was awarded personally the Silver Star and the Bronze Star.
Bellavia reacted with some emotion, in this must-read blog posting, to the decision, reported in the New York Times, of the current administration (most of whose members opposed the war in Iraq) to change the name of the US military mission in Iraq from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn.
In my house I have a desk that is almost never opened. I think the last time I looked at it was around three years ago. I opened it as soon as I read the New York Times article yesterday.
There this giant scrapbook sits, still with the pricetag across the top. My wife had made this book for me that contains just about everything I have ever done in the Army.
And every picture of my friends. The living . The dead. …
[A] page in the scrapbook has a clear acetate pouch. Stuffed inside is a thick, folded sheet of blue paper. An Iraqi ballot I stole on January 30th 2005.
The sound of mortar fire fills my ears. The desk dissolves. Suddenly, Iâ€™m kneeling on a road, a palm grove to my front. Iraq. Election Day 2005.
The bullets are flying.
My squad runs through the searing heat and forms a wall of flesh and Kevlar between the incoming fire and the citizens standing in line behind us. Theyâ€™ve turned out in their finest clothes to wait for the opportunity to cast a vote. For most, this moment is a defining one in their lives. Theyâ€™ve never had a voice before. This means something to them, and they have used the moment as an object lesson for their children. They appear nervous and take photos. The kids stand with them in line, viewing first hand this revolution in Iraqi civics.
As they came to line up earlier that morning, the men thanked us and clasped their hands over their heads, striking a triumphant pose. Some of the women cried. The kids were on their best behavior.
The gunfire began that afternoon. Insurgents started to shoot them. My unit ran to the road and formed a protective position between the killers and the citizens going to the polls. As we scanned the palm grove in front of us, bullets cracked and whined, then mortars start thumping around us. My squad pushed into the palm grove. I stayed on the road, overseeing their movement and coordinating the heavy fire from the Bradleys.
The firefight ebbs. The mortar fire ceases. A few last stray rounds streak past. A cry from behind causes me to turn. Lying in the road is a young Iraqi woman. I run over to help. Sheâ€™s caught a round just below her temple. Her stunning beauty has been ruined forever.
She cries, â€œPaper! Paperâ€ over and over until the ambulance arrives to take her away. An old lady emerges from the schoolhouse-turned voting site, sheets of blue paper in hand. She gives one to the wounded girl, who clutches it to her like a prized possession even as the ambulance carries her away.
The ballot was her voice. All she wanted was a chance to exercise it, just once, before she died.
The old woman returns to the school house, but drops another ballot along the way. It drifts in a gentle breeze across the bloodstained asphalt. I stoop down and pick it up. It is all in Arabic, and I have no idea what each set of candidates advocate. Thatâ€™s not my place, and it doesnâ€™t really matter. I helped make this day happen. This ballot represents the reason why weâ€™re here, why my friends had to die.
Carefully, I fold the ballot up and put it in my pocket. Even though I was 29 at the time , Iâ€™d only voted once.
I had taken something so precious for granted for far too long.
Now, in the safety of my own house, thousands of miles from danger and violence, this little blue paper, still with dark speckles of that womanâ€™s blood, sits tucked away in this scrapbook.
That young woman wanted nothing else than the chance to explore her newfound freedom. She didnâ€™t beg for help, or plead for her life. Voting would become her final act. In that moment, she matched our own sacrifices. Denfrund, Carlson, Sizemore. Iwan. Gonzales. Mock.
Our friends died to secure this day. And here on this road in Diyala, I saw proof that the blood spilled in this backward country had value. It made the cause noble and just. This may not mean much to someone who stands in opposition to our fight, but it is the legacy of our fallen. The honor of their sacrifice.
They gave their lives for others like me to come home. They died trying to preserve freedom for this woman.
They confronted those who wished to dominate a people in the name of violence and religion, who wished to destroy our culture and way of life. Even if most Americans may not understand who or what we fight, these men not only believed, many reenlisted to continue the fight until the war was won.
I came home in search of that womanâ€™s spirit in the hearts of my fellow Americans. I came home expecting to find the sacrifice of these brave patriots revered at every turn by those who overwhelmingly sent us to war from Washington.
Iâ€™m still looking.
It would not be hard to come up with the right name for the American left’s consistent efforts to undermine the legitimacy of, destroy domestic support for, military efforts in which other American laid down their lives, either in the Vietnam era or during the war in Iraq. It’s easy to understand former Sergeant Bellavia’s bitterness at seeing his comrades sacrifices for the cause of freedom renamed and trivialized by precisely the same people on the homefront who did their best to ensure their failure.