Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Coming home

Caribou calved everywhere those weeks in June on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge in northeast Alaska. Bears hunted through the herd, wandered into camp, slept in willows, blended into invisibility among the rich brown tundra vegetation. Shotgun was always in hand or within reach, awake or asleep. Encounters with griz were numerous. They were fearless and arrogant. This was their land. I was the interloper. A helicopter lifted me out, dropped me next to an idling plane at Kaktovik, and 24 hours later, never having really slept, I was in my house. That night the fan was the arctic wind; my bed was the floor of the tent; the sheet was the sleeping bag. Tilla the black lab was a bear as she clambered onto the bed in the middle of the night. I lunged for my shotgun, which wasn't there; Tilla licked my face, and I was home from bear country.
There has been no similar homecoming from these wars.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Then and now

(c) Roger Leo

Epitaph for Leonidas and the 300 at Thermopylae:
"Go tell the Spartans, Passerby,
That here, obedient to their laws, We lie."

Marine in the Hindu Kush:
"Have they forgotten about us back home, sir? It feels like it."

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Memories flash through consciousness: A smoking slab of meat on a Baghdad street - the torso of a car bomber; 124 Iraqis, most of them schoolchildren, dead from three car bombs; three Americans being put into body bags on Senators after a roadside bomb ripped them to bloody shreds; an overlooked boot with foot inside and dog tags in the laces; gashes left in Humvee armor from two RPGs that hit and glanced off; a bullet hole in the back wall of a Humvee from a round that came in the open window as everyone inside returned fire during an ambush; White alive in the mess hall and dead on patrol; Christoph teaching Iraqis to read a map, and dead on patrol; Conboy alive on patrol and then dead from a stupid accident back on base; Ramseyer cleaning his M4 in Afghanistan and dead in Iraq; Allen alive through a year’s deployment, then dead of invisible wounds sustained in combat; too many hot zone landings, endless dusty roads, night raids, car stops, sullen faces, explosions, mortars, small arms fire, anxiety, no exit.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Evolution of thought

Visitors to this blog see the most recent posts first, and immediately sense disenchantment with the wars. It wasn't always so. If visitors go to the oldest posts first, and work forward through time, they will see this disenchantment evolve over repeated trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. I noticed that the other day when reviewing the archives in chronological order, oldest to newest. So many have died in these wars. Some live in my memory; most live on in the memories of those who knew and loved them. Did these deaths serve a purpose? A friend, a journalist whose beloved died in Iraq, spoke about her life and death, and ended with the words, "Was there some purpose to this? I hope so."
Ted Kennedy spoke of a letter his father wrote to a friend when a child had died. Why the death? How to go on? What's the sense in that loss? We have to go on, the letter said, fold the loss into ourselves, appreciate the value of life and not waste it going forward.
Maybe part of maturity is being able to do that, to savor joy of the fleeting moment in the shadow of inevitable sorrow.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Home is the soldier

(c) Roger Leo

Paraphrasing Stevenson: "Home is the soldier, home from the war ... "
Sgt. Skyler Koch, U.S. Army retired, and his friend, Shasta, enjoy food and drink, after coming down to Princeton from Vermont for the photo exhibit.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Photo Exhibit Nov. 13-14

(c) Roger Leo

I am hanging 66 prints from Iraq and Afghanistan at the Princeton (Mass.) Arts Society at the end of this week. Reception 7 to 9 p.m. Friday Nov. 13, exhibit 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday Nov. 14. It would be great to see any old friends who are close enough to drop by either day. Doc Griego left a comment on the post just below this one, wondering if I remember him. The answer is yes, clearly, vividly and often. Indeed there are several photos of him in the exhibit: with Scout Platoon in a pre-mission briefing, on a house raid, and upon his return at Fort Hood. Doc and anyone else from 1-8 Cav or 3-3 Marines should feel welcome to drop by. Skyler Koch is coming for sure, making the drive with his lady from college in Vermont. I last saw Koch at Lt. (now Capt.) Derek Ping's wedding at West Point. The exhibit also has several photos of Skyler: pointing to the gouge left on his HUMVEE by an RPG, and watching Derek Ping dance with his bride. Capt. (now Maj.) Rex Blair - D Co. commander - may drive over from West Point with his two oldest sons, Rex and Connor. He's in at least one pic, with Lt. (now Capt.-retired) Matthew Cohen and several of the Scout Platoon troopers, all in full battle rattle.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reality of War

(c) Roger Leo

When we send our children off to war, they enter a world of death. The photo above shows three American soldiers in body bags after they were killed by a bomb Feb. 21, 2005 in Baghdad. A boot, with foot still inside, lies overlooked in the foreground. Blood trails show where two of the soldiers were dragged from the places they fell. This is the first time this photograph has been published. The question of whether to publish photos of dead American soldiers and marines has been much discussed in recent weeks. Too much reality for people who think war is neat, clean and contained? It's none of those things. It is terrible, and should always be the last choice.