Here’s one for the road, no pun intended. This isn’t the type of story typical of the War Stories I’ve read but is worthy to be shared. I’m glad it was chosen to write about. It’s a glimpse into the senselessness of all of this…MESS and how it affects the people whose home is a war zone and has been for a very long time. Enjoy, good night. 


By U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jack Lewis

I never heard the boom-CRUNCH, only imagined it later. Our Stryker moaned through its monstrous air brakes and then bumped, heaved, and finally ground itself to a halt.

“Six-seven’s in the ditch!”
“Did they roll it?”
“No, they’re up. I think they’re disabled.”
“Where’s the colonel? Is the colonel’s vehicle okay?”

The major said that we would need a combat lifesaver. It wasn’t combat. There were no lives left to save. But we dug out the CLS bag, because you never know, do you? And walked across a pitch dark highway.

Somebody was wailing in Arabic, hypnotically, repetitiously.

A single car headlight was burning, a single shaft of light beaming across the road like an accusing finger. When tactical spotlights suddenly illuminated the little car, we found the source of the wailing.

English: An Iraqi boy gives a fist bump to U.S...
English: An Iraqi boy gives a fist bump to U.S. Army Spc.Troy McWilliams of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Nov. 2, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He was an older man, wearing a silver beard, a monumental, red-veined nose, and a big, thick wool overcoat. He was hopping like a dervish, bowing rapidly from the waist and throwing his arms to the sky, then to his knees, over and over again in a kind of elaborate dance of grief.

It’s hard to describe the contents of the car. They had been a man, only moments earlier that night. A cop or a fireman or a soldier would have simply said, “It’s a mess in there.” I used to be a fireman. I’m a soldier now. It was as bad a mess as I’ve seen.

I thought about CPR, but only for a moment. His left arm was mostly torn off, and the left side of his head was flattened.

Up on the highway, GIs walked around, gave and took orders. By the car, the victim’s father still capered madly, throwing his arms around, crying out to God or anyone. I asked him, in my own language, to come with me, to calm down, to let me help him.

While the medic worked on him, the colonel’s interpreter came over and fired a few questions at the man. It sounded like an interrogation.

The younger man had been taking his father back from shopping. They were minutes from home. The young man had been a student. Engineering. With honors. Pride of the family. What we like to think of as Iraq’s future.

Finally, I had to ask, “What does he keep saying?”
The terp looked at me, disgusted, resigned, or maybe just plain tired. “He says to kill him now.”

I walked away and lit a Gauloise. A sergeant came up next to me, smoking. I didn’t say anything.  After a few moments in the black quiet, I overheard him say, “It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just an accident.”

“I know.” Inhale. Cherry glow. Long exhale. “Why we gotta drive in blackout – here – I don’t get.”

“Yeah. I know.”

A US Army (USA) M1126 Stryker Infantry Carrier...
A US Army (USA) M1126 Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV) with Slat Armor cage from the 2nd Platoon (PLT), Bravo (B) Company (CO), 1st Battalion (BN), 5th Infantry (INF), 25th Infantry Division (ID) (Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went and sat on the back gate of the Stryker. I felt the cold creep into me. The old man sat next to me, perhaps too tired to continue his tirade against cruel Fate, careless Americans, war and its accidents.

I haven’t lost a full-grown son, just a little daughter. A baby. And she wasn’t torn from me in a terror of rending steel, stamped out by a sudden monster roaring out of the night. She went so quietly that her passing never woke her mother. I like to think she kissed her on the way out, on her way home.

But still, sitting on the steel tail of the monster that killed his son, I think, maybe, I knew just how one Iraqi man felt.

“Just kill me now.”

We sat and looked straight into the lights.


© Copyright Jack Lewis
This excerpt of “Road Work” from Operation Homecoming, edited by Andrew Carroll, is reprinted by arrangement with The Random House Publishing Group.
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