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A marine at war.

Now that U.S. Marines have been dispatched to Somalia, I've been thinking about the Corps' last great mission - the one in which I had a part. Some call the Persian Gulf war "the most efficiently executed war in history," but my impression is that there was a great difference between the war presented by the media to the American people and the war experienced by me and my fellow Marines. Perhaps my recollections will help lend some perspective to the news from Somalia.

December 5, 1990

Our Reserve unit was transported to Camp Pendleton, California, in preparation for service in Saudi Arabia. For many of us, the twenty-seven-hour flight to Al Jubail was the most difficult trip we had ever embarked on. We were confused and scared. We had no idea what would be awaiting us when we got off the plane. Even the flight attendants were upset; some of them cried as we disembarked.

From our desert landing field we were carried to a temporary camp. As a rule, Marines are given three days to acclimate themselves to their surroundings, but here we were told that because of impending U.S. air strikes and possible Iraqi retaliation, we would be split from our company the next day and sent where we would be most needed. Seven of us were dispatched to join the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, just fourteen miles south of the Kuwaiti border, well within range of Iraqi artillery and light missiles.

January 14, 1991

When we reached the 7th Engineers' compound at the port of Musshab, what impressed me most was the overwhelming desolation of the place. I felt we were weak and expendable pawns in a huge game of chess. This feeling stayed with me throughout the war.

January 17, 1991

At 0200 hours, U.S. and other U.N. forces launched an air attack on Iraqi detachments in Kuwait, as well as on strategic targets in Iraq. Two other Marines and I were on guard duty. At 0230, a green-and-red flare - a warning of a chemical attack - lit up the night sky. We put on our gas masks and waited. Many felt ill, and some vomited in their masks. Though it turned out that there had been no attack that night, we were all sure we had fallen victim to nerve-gas - and, in a sense, I suppose we had. It was the kind of fear we would experience every day.

January 27, 1991

For me, this was probably the worst day of my life. While peering through the blowing sand and dust through which our convoy was proceeding from Musshab to Kabrith, I saw a Saudi-five-ton truck collide with an American HMMWV, the equivalent of the old M151 Jeep. We were the first to reach the scene, and started pulling injured Marines - most of them with contusions and fractures - out of their vehicle.

I tried to assist an injured Marine. He was shaking and crying, and his lips were turning blue. His breathing was labored. I realized that he had a sucking chest wound; a piece of wood had entered his back and pierced his right lung. As I was about to turn him over and treat him, he told me he had no feeling in his arms and legs and could not move them. Marine Corps training had not prepared me for this. Should I turn him over and deal with his wound so that he would not bleed to death or drown in his own blood, or should I keep him immobilized in case of severe neck trauma, which might also kill him?

I chose to keep him still. I don't know whether that was the right choice. I don't even know whether he lived after the helicopter came and took him away. I do remember the fear in his face. I remember holding his cold and almost lifeless hand as I tried to talk him out of shock. I remember the smell of his blood as it spilled on my hands and all over me.

Even now, as I write this, I can feel my heart beating faster and tears welling up in my eyes.

February 3, 1991

Our company commander gathered us together for a pep rally.

"Look to your left and look to your right," he said. "One of those Marines will not live through this operation." He talked about the danger of chemical and nerve-agent poisoning. "If the Marine next to you goes down," he said, "we don't have time to stop and treat him. Just keep going."

Just keep going? I couldn't believe my ears. We were supposed to leave for dead men who had become brothers to us. I went to sleep that night with a knot in my throat, waiting for G-Day, the day the ground war was to begin.

February 24, 1991

The ground war we had prepared for never came - at least not for us. We made our way through the mine fields and found a desert littered with burned-out tanks and charred bodies. All I can remember thinking is, "What a waste!"

The Iraqi soldiers who had made it through the intensive bombing flew out of their holes, half naked and waving any piece of cloth they could find. Strangely, holding prisoners of war took up more of our time than waging war.

When I was assigned to feed the POWs, I had a hard time believing that I was prepared to kill them just a few days ago. Looking at them now, all I saw was a bunch of scared and starving people - not the enemy, not Iraqis, just people.

February 28, 1991

The war was over and the media praised us for winding up the operation in only 100 hours. It was the longest 100 hours of my life.

We dreamt of the fantastic welcome we would receive on our return, but by the time we got back most people had forgotten about the Gulf war. I felt cheated of the glory of war - until I realized there was no glory to be found in war, not in this war or in any other.

War has become something we all get to see in our living rooms - whether in the carefully managed network news reports or in such films as Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. Either way, it's a sanitized view of war - one that makes it seem more acceptable. It isn't anything like the real thing.

Jason Douglas is a senior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.
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Title Annotation:Journal Entry - Persian Gulf War narrative
Author:Douglas, Jason
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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