March 26, 2008

Name: Teflon Don
Posting date: 3/26/08
Returned from
: Iraq
Milblog url: acutepolitics.blogspot.com

The Idaho Statesman began a five-part series yesterday on the "Five Years of War". It opened with a fairly well-balanced article on ordinary life in Baghdad and a leading question: "When you close your eyes and think of Iraq, what does your mind's eye see?"

When I close my eyes, I don't see Iraq. I hear it. Every night when I close my eyes and go to sleep, the quiet night is broken by the ringing memory of bombs long blown apart. I heard Iraq once in the gunshots as a man died in a bad drug deal nearby, and I hear it still every afternoon when the grade school across the fence recesses.

I still hear the music, too. Music is a big part of a lot of soldier's lives in Iraq -- it is both calming and girding, and embraced in virtually all its forms. Music often turns surreal; the way "Highway to Hell" would start up on the truck playlist as we turned down Route Mets and play on as we passed the crater in the road where once we lost three good men was eerie. I sat through a virtual monsoon once while listening to "Welcome to the Jungle" and watching the rain whip trees sideways.

Some guys listen to death metal before missions, some listen to melodic pop during firefights -- whatever it takes to get you through. I had a pretty eclectic mix that ranged from the hardcore yet not hate-filled Project 86 to soft and dreamy Nickel Creek, with the drunken Irish bagpipes of Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys playing the punkish counterpart to the timelessness of Guns and Roses.

The other night I heard the music again, and the surreal undertones punched me in the gut. I was driving home at night, and the rain was coming down hard. The radio was playing Nickelback -- it was one of SGT Clevenger's favorite songs, one that played at his memorial:

If everyone cared and nobody cried
If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
We'd see the day when nobody died

I came over the top of a hill, and in front of me was a church billboard, one that always has bright lights spelling out a Bible verse and some "Jesus loves you" message. As it came into view the billboard flashed big and orange letters: "DIED".

Weird. Thanks, but I knew that well, and don't need reminding. I reached out and punched the button to turn my stereo from radio to CD player, and as a mix CD starting playing Dropkick Murphys, the billboard lights reorganized themselves: "FOR YOU". Every time I think of Clev, I remember that if a series of last minute decisions had gone differently it could be my ghost courting the visitors of some marbled estate.

The CD player piped out the Dropkick cover of "Green Fields of France":

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did the play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

And I can't help but wonder, oh Willy McBride
Do all those who lie here know why they died
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause
Did you really believe that this war would end wars
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing and dying it was all done in vain
Oh Willy McBride, it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again

I was past the billboard before it flashed back to the beginning "JESUS", but I mumbled his name to myself as I flew by, the stereo completely off now. All I wanted was to get home, text my girlfriend to let her know I was home safe, pour a stiff shot of scotch, and forget the drive.

You can't make that shit up, but what can you do about it?


Thank you.
I am glad you are home safe.

You remember, you tell the story and one day you don't tell the story because everyone is listening to some official expert that wasn't with you about what really was going on. They write the History that didn't play the game, nor fight their fears, nor live with their dead departed. Hang in and hang on, you do know and are telling it well.

All you can do is take things slow and easy, and wait for things to level out. Process a little bit at a time, go easy. Maybe listen to a bit of new music. You're gestating the future you.

Dear Teflon Don:

I have to admit we seemed to have reached some sort of horrible all-time high on people trying to stuff their opinions/religions/whatever down everyone else's throats. Maybe you and all the other veterans will be part of a keep-it-to-yourself sea change in American culture. I can only hope.

On a lighter note, I agree with zelma above -- you need some new tunes, dude! Some Amy Winehouse to go with your evening scotch, some Chieftains to replace the Dropkicks, some Idan Raichl Project to give you something positive from the Middle East, some -- what else? Some Weird Al to give you some grins, maybe? Some Bach or Telemann to mellow your brain out with beautiful, highly structured music. Some Blue Highways with those ultra-sad lyrics so you can cry a few tears in your car and nobody the wiser.

Teflon Don,

Thank you for a poignant piece, and a feel for what it's like. The billboard experience sounds absolutely surreal. "Green Fields of France" is totally apropos.

Also, you have an excellent mix of tunes; you don't need Amy Winehouse (!)

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