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I finally watched “We were soldiers” last night. I had somehow missed it, but last night when it popped up unexpectedly on TV, Vietnam, a real story, Mel Gibson were too curious a combo to pass up on, so I watched.

“War movies” is not my favorite genre, but there are a couple that are war movies and that are among my favorites; Black Hawk Down or Hurt Locker for example.

Somalia, because it is loosely based on the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, right around the same time when a young photographer, Dan Eldon was killed, lynched by a mob, while taking pictures. And Hurt Locker, well, obviously because I spent a whole year in Iraq, 365 days straight, and mostly clad in a flack jacket and a bloody helmet that did me no good than mess up my spine, the movie rings true.

There has been times when I closely associated myself with Dan. His sister and I went to the same university and after he was killed she delivered a speech in which she talked of him. We were almost the same age, and later I found myself doing many things Dan did. He was probably the youngest Reuters photographer murdered while covering a story. His sister later made a documentary on him.

Things we do for closure.

Battle of Mogadishu, I can tell you a lot about, but what do I know about Vietnam? I wasn’t even born then. So, I am not really going to go into a long critique of the movie, the actors, or the quality of the performance. You can read the plot here, and find more about the story in the book which the film is based on. And better yet, here is a scene:

The authors of this near history: Lt. Col. Hal Moore, the U.S. commander in the battlefield, and Joe Galloway, a rookie reporter who lands into something more than he asked for. Galloway’s first war. Makes me think of my first war. No, I cannot tell you about Vietnam, but I can tell you about the Balkans.

And about Afghanistan.

And about Iraq.

And about Sudan.

And of all the places I can tell you about, it will be the same thing I will say over and over again: young people, old people, children, dead.

We bury our dead in shallow graves in the battlefield. Sometimes we do not bury at all. We let nature take care of things. The smell of rotten flesh as we roll into Kosovo the hour we get news that the border is open. Smell of death is sweet, sugary, thick, sticky. Your brain only tells you it is sickening after you have had a few moments to think about.

We lay our dead in rows to show it to the reporters. The scent sticks in your nostrils for days no matter how many times you wash your face. It sticks to your clothes.

There is a part in the movie, before the final battle when Galloway takes off his camera to don a rifle so he can join the battle. That, or he will be wiped out like the rest he is told. The age old dilemma. The impartiality of the reporter versus the loyalty of the soldier. I found myself holding my breath between the time he took up the rifle and the time he laid it off to grab his camera. But then again, I cannot tell you about Vietnam.

Before I sat down to write this disconnected piece, as scattered as my thoughts and as unfocused as my emotions, while cruising the net, I found a page: the forgotten “Heroes“.

I have met so many young men and women in Iraq who are advertised back in their home country as heroes, and who are honored as one when they fall. Yet they are just scared kids, trying to save through the day to pay their student loans or childcare. They certainly do not feel like heroes. And when they return, alive, with a closet full of traumas, they will be forgotten, most will fall through the cracks.

They always do:

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One thought on “Bury our dead in shallow graves

  1. I just watched We Were Soldiers tonight on DVD for the umpteenth time. I am a Vietnam vet. I don’t know any vet who thinks of himself as a hero and to many of us it’s an offensive term. It is correctly stated at the end of the movie, we weren’t there for our country, we just wanted to survive with our brothers. We were there to take care of each other. Every war is different with tons of similarities. Some movies about war are fairly accurate and sometimes the war felt like I was in a movie. The real thing is….real, movies aren’t. People of all ages die, death stinks and war is insane.

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