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Some say that we tend to remember the painful experiences in life; that they are automatically given higher priority by the "Save" portions of our brains. I don't know if that's true, but I do know that there was one episode in the series known as "my life" that I can never forget. Perhaps this is so because it was so highly charged emotionally...so much so that at one point while I was writing this, I had to stop typing. Too much emotion and sadness I suppose; bottom line...I couldn't see through my own tears. Life goes on, as they say, but the story of Richard Larrey...well, it shall always occupy a very special place that lies at the core of my soul. In many ways, it has become the reference point for my perspective on life in general and the foundation of my values and beliefs about human nature. They could have called him Captain Larrey back in 2003, but the horror known as Baghdad brought soldiers closer to one another, and rank usually took a back seat to informality; so they called him Rich. Iraq was a battlefield like no other in history. Unyielding pressure, fear, brutality - these are all beyond the realm of imaginable human experience. We were attempting to defeat an enemy that embraced the very thing we feared most - death. Richard Larrey never pretended to be immune to the horror, but the Arkansas bred 26 year-old was an anomaly. Tactically, he may have been a genius. His instinctive command of combat strategy saved us from extinction on numerous occasions. Under enormous pressure, he made decisions in seconds; decisions that saved American and Iraqi lives. Yet when he had orders to take out insurgent cells on discovery, he was decisive and ruthless. Was it a contradiction? I don't think so. Larrey was complex in that sense. I didn’t see the contradiction - he maintained a level of respect for human life that was extraordinary. Larrey never commanded respect, either. He earned compassionate, he inspired and he endured. I know it and often wondered what it was like to be him. the 5th Division’s infantry unit informally known seat. it - by example. He was this because I was there. I saw As a correspondent embedded with simply as “B,” I had a front row
August 12, 2003 started out like any other day. “B” had orders to implement a search of the sector. The procedure had its origins in Korea and Vietnam, but it was referred to then as Search and Destroy. In response to “media hyped” atrocities” committed by U.S. soldiers, the Army reluctantly acceded to rules of engagement that had become more of a prelude to marrying the enemy than defeating it. Soldiers were forced to defy their natural instincts for self preservation in order to comply with these rules, and they were under intense scrutiny by the media and by command. The atrocities occurred with regularity anyway. Rich understood, and I believe that he knowingly downplayed some of them in his reports. Why? Searches were fraught with danger and fear. I had seen a soldier turn to leave after discovering a frightened Iraqi family wrapped up in a blanket; their terrified expressions signaling the absence of threat, only to ask himself, “Where did this hole in my stomach come from?” An “innocent” young Iraqi girl had an AK-47 hidden inside that blanket. Searches were characterized by chronic confusion as well. Mistakes were made. Innocent Iraqi’s were killed, sometimes as a result of a sudden movement or a misinterpreted gesture. (There is nothing more horrifying than watching a family of six ripped to shreds in a volley of panic induced gunfire) The confusion was exacerbated by U.S. Intel’s failure to provide coordinates for special operatives embedded in insurgent cells. Death by friendly fire had become routine.
The man smiled. “I hate this goddamned war!” I saw the rage in his eyes and I imagined he was on . Shiites. knew instinctively that the man was not there to kill his family. suicide bombers. Larrey put his hand on the barrel and made him lower the weapon. “you have a wonderful boy there. The boy may have been nine or ten years old.it wasn’t life threatening but it must have been painful. they all came in disguise and there was no limit to their thirst for brutality.” Rich said. “I’ll bet you’re a tough little kid. it was the universal language of emotion and humanity. then stopped abruptly.” Larrey had an instinctive awareness of something that most people could not comprehend. When he got close enough. we had just exited a building when a baby’s head landed at my feet. Rather suddenly.I cried. Unspeakable horrors almost always accompanied the package. Two men. In mid-July. had just bonded.. in a posture as non-threatening as he could make it. Rich pulled out his emergency kit and carefully cleaned the wound. Tone. inflection. perhaps a result of a stray bullet . “He should be okay.rage. There were tears running down his cheeks. He stood there for what seemed like an eternity. He probably knew more than a child his age should about this war and the Americans. and it spoke volumes about what had just occurred. When he looked up we made eye contact. eye contact and body posture communicated everything. He noticed blood on the young boy’s shoulder.” Larrey said. As he rose to leave. That brief connection might have been one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. They looked frightened. rhythm. The boy stared at Rich. Communication was not a function of intellect. He was trying to thank him. How do you fight that? Sergeant Teddy Homeister kicked open the door to a crumbling shell of a building. Rich gently patted him on the shoulder and gave him four Tylenol 3’s. the father tugged on Rich’s sleeve. he closed one window and opened another . I’d say. eyes wide with amazement. Who wouldn’t be? Innocent civilians were killed every day. Rich smiled. The silence in the room had a spiritual quality to it. staring at the floor.” Rich said. The family watched. I‘m sure he knew they didn’t understand his words but that didn’t seem to matter. who appeared to be the father. because we could see tears in his eyes. molded by cultures that were polar opposites. smiling.We rarely knew what to expect and we could never be sure who the enemy was. I did what any human would do in that moment . “Let’s make sure he’s okay. The words didn’t matter. that this American was different from the others.” He approached slowly. “I know. but I think this child.who had seen so much horror. I looked up and saw a bearded man leaning out of a third floor window. Killing was never enough for them. said something then that transcended language. The older man.. An Iraqi family was huddled in the corner of the room. insurgents. silently. That was what we were up against. The boy was doing his best to be brave and not cry. He kicked the floor with so much force that dust and gravel sprayed across the room.” Rich said. Rich turned away and started toward the door. then bandaged it and made a makeshift sling for the boy. “They’re not the enemy. Teddy had his rifle raised and aimed at them. He had every right to be frightened by this strange man dressed in the clothing of death. Sunnis. palms out. trying as best as he could using hand gestures to explain that he should use only one at a time. he saw that it was a sizable flesh wound.
our Sergeant.” and we could see that he had been hardened by the war. Regardless of their differences. He was dressed like a cleric. The soldiers that had shared them with me always smiled with pride. I nailed him in the back of his head. even with the enemy. I was too. I witnessed an American soldier being reprimanded for sharing photos with a captive. What was it? Thoughts and questions like this haunted me. because the whole block tilted when he blew. I thought . “these people are all the same . and he prayed that wouldn’t happen to him. He was gone…forever. I couldn’t find it. but maybe his edge was different than mine. was in his midthirties.you got to’ kill them before they kill you. returning to the streets and the chaos. He wanted to return to his wife. What does one say to a man who’s entire reason for being is in his wallet? Eight days later. While I was gone. and he had a hole in his chest that was spouting blood like a geyser.” Teddy said.I was overwhelmed with admiration for this man who had shown so much kindness and sacrificed his own need for self preservation to help that boy. and for once Teddy didn’t have a response. He saw it in the hard eyes of most of the soldiers. I got him good . I was 50 yards away when it happened. that’s all. I handed the wallet back to Rich and noticed that instead of the beaming smile I expected. but he didn’t fire. there were only tears. there was another pulse beating in Iraq.” I knew. Teddy. but like a distant drum beat that seemed to echo from every direction. Just like that. you know? He must have been wrapped up pretty good. “Suicide bomber.” “Did Rich see him coming?” “He had his rifle up. so I said nothing. I had seen many just like them. I got the story from Loretta. Rich was relatively young for a Captain and already on his second tour. Could I be like Rich someday? I didn’t think so. how I miss them. I know. I wanted to put my finger on it…feel its rhythm.” he told me as he pulled out his wallet.the edge emotionally. we forgot that we were human beings. We left. there was nothing remarkable about the photos. I saw death written all over his face. I don’t know why. but I didn’t give a damn. He was everything I wasn’t. a Corporal in our unit… sniper trained and emotionless…I thought. I didn’t know what to say.” he replied. His leg was blown away. as the same loving husband and father they knew. Rich Larrey died.” . I saw the creep. I could have been wrong.the top of his head was gone. by the time I saw the guy and fired. he was only maybe 30 yards from…I saw Rich go airborne. We were missing something in Iraq . and even if he did make it. Rich knew he had maybe a fifty-fifty chance of making it out of Iraq alive. We were so busy being Americans. “Anyway.a lost key that opened doors no one dared to go near. He referred to himself as a “lifer. “You took some chance in there. I looked at the pictures . I knew he was a goner. he feared something would be lost. The wall of the building stopped him. and their beautiful three-year old daughter Marie. but he was still running toward Rich like an insect. Anna. “God. It really didn’t matter.superficially. What did you think you were doing back there anyway?” “Just trying to help. On a day when everything that could go wrong did. people had an instinctive need to connect. but even from that distance. Amidst all the killing and hatred. I made a short trip to visit a friend who was stuck in the medical unit with a nasty hip wound.
all of them. He finally got it. crying like it had been one of their own. He was trying to crawl. RPG’s.” I was starting to feel sick and thought I might have to ask Loretta to stop. mortars. was this Iraqi family. though. they were throwing it all at us.. you name it. Tell you the truth. the one person I would have least expected to show any emotion at all. They turned out to be the same people with the kid Rich patched up last week. How complex can war be? In the midst of all the brutality. “Rich was in bad shape and he was in a lot of pain…I could see that. “He was such a good man. It was horrible. She even placed her hand on my shoulder. but the big guy. remember?” “Yeah. incendiaries. The whole thing was planned.. © . There is a message in that.” “Yeah. but I am afraid no one hears it. I mean if you did. huh?” “No. I followed them. The older guy went and got some opium and stuck the pipe in Rich’s mouth. You don’t see stuff like that here too often. humanity and compassion survive. in front of Loretta. Then these two guys . Right after the guy blew. dragged Rich inside their building. why would we need to keep fighting?” I wound up sobbing right there. the brother I think. I never saw anything like that. insurgents attacked.“So that was it. Mikey.” I felt dead inside. and then he was gone. The weird thing. Those people loved him. I cried with them. had to push hard on a towel over the chest wound so Rich could inhale. It really hurt bad.Iraqi civilians.
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