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Turnipseed, Joel. Baghdad Express; a Gulf War memoir.

Penguin. 202p. illus. map. c2003.0-14-200153-8. $13.00. SA

Joel Turnipseed was a philosophy student in Minneapolis and, as a Marine reservist, had held the rank of lance corporal for almost five years when, in 1990, he was called to go to Saudi Arabia to help fight the First Gulf War. He said goodbye to his girlfriend and dysfunctional family, packed up a boxful of books--most of them philosophical works--and got on the plane that took him to Camp Shepard, out in the desert. There he became a camp guard and part of the Sixth Motor Transport Battalion, a unit that hauled ammunition to the men fighting at the front and, 100 days later, hauled most of it back again.

This lively memoir, laced with the philosophical quotations that helped Joel make sense of what he was experiencing, is full of the images of modern warfare: ALICE packs and H harnesses, first-aid kits, M16 rifles, MREs, SCUD alarms, flak jackets, gas masks and nerve gas pills, helmets, convoys, and "bullets, artillery, and death." He uses the creative slang of men in the military: "chocolate chips" for camouflage fatigues, "dog pound" for the tent he shared, "Saudi Motors" for the place where the trucks were kept, and plenty of the profanity, sexual innuendo, and scatology that is on the tongues of soldiers everywhere.

He draws vivid images of his fellows and of the situations he encountered: getting his truck half buried in the sand, dodging incoming SCUDS, trying to make sense of religious services, heat and fatigue, learning of the death of a Minnesota man. He witnessed the mass surrender of Iraqi soldiers and comments that US destruction of fleeing Iraqi forces on the infamous highway of death will surely be something we will have to pay for in the future.

Brian Kelly brightens the book with cartoon illustrations, picturing Turnipseed in a helmet with the words "Know Thyself" across the front. This is a sensitive, readable book by an unusually observant young man. The chapters are brief and descriptions blunt. It deserves a place among personal memoirs of modern warfare. Edna Boardman, Bismarck, ND
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Author:Boardman, Edna
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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