Veteran David Botti Reflects on Going to War in April 2003
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DAVID BOTTI: The day the Iraq war began, we watched it on the nightly news. My platoon of Reserve Marines, stationed in North Carolina, cheered as rockets were fired and bombs fell.
As U.S. troops moved into Iraq, we watched the Marines’ faces on the television to see if there were any we knew.
Living stateside at the start of a war seemed to be the worst place a Marine could possibly be. Many listlessly carried out their duties, harboring that inherent warrior’s guilt of missing battle.
As the days passed, I could no longer bear to watch the news. The unit whose barracks we now occupied was battling the Fedayeen guerillas. We were missing the war and didn’t know if we would even be deployed.
Marines were fighting and dying while our days were filled with repetitive courses of training and nightly trips to the movies.
A base general told us the war would be like Vietnam, because people would watch the fighting every night at their dinner tables; none of us had ever associated this new war with Vietnam.
The quick success of Desert Storm was the only major American conflict we lived through, while the bloody specter of Vietnam was long relegated to history. Suddenly, our apprehensions began to grow.
When a Marine in my squad sprained his ankle on a run, our squad leader appeared visibly shaken. He stayed by the Marine’s side and worried that he’d pushed the Marine too hard. If he couldn’t take care of his men on a simple run, how would he get them through combat?
The call to deploy finally came. A gunnery sergeant asked if I was scared; I wasn’t, but I knew I would be. “Kind of,” I replied.
With a subdued tone, the gunny said that he was. If this hard-nosed jarhead was scared, I should be, too.
One of my friends was having trouble sleeping. Another wished he’d been able to pick up a girl during our only night of off-base liberty. Still another was worried about killing someone and going to Hell.
I made the final call to my parents. I listened as my mother’s voice deteriorated from brave words of encouragement to uncontrollable sobs. I still can’t remember if my father got on the phone; later, he said it was at that moment when he finally understood what his parents had gone through as he left home for the Korean War more than 50 years earlier.
In Kuwait, lying on the sand floor of our crowded tent, I composed a letter by flashlight to my parents, telling them of the fighting we were expected to encounter. I never mailed it. I wrote another, less-revealing letter and kept the original sealed in its envelope; it’s still unopened.
The night we flew into Iraq, we were treated to a large meal. As we stuffed ourselves with ice cream and fried chicken, a television chronicled the day’s fighting.
MILITARY SPOKESMAN: That was the firing of the anti-aircraft system at this aircraft that’s conducting the attack.
DAVID BOTTI: We were only a short plane ride away, but the war still seemed far away, nothing more than an abstract collage of sound bites and video clips.
Four hours later, we landed on an unlit runway in southern Iraq and boarded a convoy towards our new base camp, our weapons loaded for the first time. U.S. forces had almost reached Baghdad, and I couldn’t help feeling disappointed that, even though we were finally in Iraq, the war was already as good as over. I was wrong.
I’m David Botti.