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Missing Picture, One Marine's Story

Updated on September 5, 2014

Missing Picture

I wish I still had this special picture of me when I was 17. The picture wasn't of my best friends, boyfriends, or even a class picture. This wasn't any normal picture any 17-year old girl would have.


In the picture, I was sitting in a first-class seat aboard a Boeing 747. I was wearing my Marine dessert camouflage uniform (cammies), with my seat is leaned back (it was first-class after all), and my desert camouflage 8-point cover (hat) slipped low on my eyes to protect them from the sun on this cold, dreary day in 2004, the year we invaded Iraq.

In this picture, there were red, white, and blue streamers on the airplane, with American flags taped on each glass window. The USO girls clad in patriotic cheerleader-like uniforms was crewing the Iraq-bound aircraft alongside the regular flight attendants.

In this picture, I am cradling my M16 in my sleeping arms, with a bag of M&Ms in my hands, with chocolate smudged on my fingertips. I had in my lap my M16 automatic-rifle with 120 rounds in four magazines punched in the bandolier across my bullet-proof Kevlar jacket.

I am holding this bag of M&Ms at this point in the flight since earlier in the flight, one of the US0 girls came up to me in a secret hush-hush "it's just us gals" expression. I think she was surprised there was a female on board. On the plane there were over 500 Marines, but there were only 5 female Marines. When she grabbed my day-pack (a small military backpack which carries one-day's worth of supplies, which never leaves our sight, ever) I was ready to tackle her since there was a gas mask in there, but she stealthily put at least 20 candy bars and M&Ms in my bag. She then paused, and gave me this sweet smile, and tilted her head and paused looking at me sadly in a pitiful "Oh honey, your so young but you're going to die, and you just don't know it" look. Not the greatest motivation for my morale.

I swear, I was pulling candy bars out of my day-pack for months. Every time I thought I had eaten the last candy bar, poof, there would be another one. I caught my partner on more than once going through my day-pack searching for more candy bars, and usually, he scored gold.

In this picture, you can see the dark blue ocean of the Atlantic through the window that my right shoulder leans against while I was sleeping before we landed in Kuwait. We were landing in Kuwait and not in Iraq because the invasion into Iraq just happened, and there are still Iraqi military gorillas who had the capabilities of taking down a commercial 747. We were the individuals who made it safe for the next deployment of Marines, including my brother, to land relatively safely in Iraq.

I won't lie; I was jealous my brother got to fly into Iraq while we had to fly to Kuwait and take a very, very dangerous 7-day road trip to our base. There were a lot of casualties on that convoy, so I was glad he got to skip that part, but I still give him a hard-time that he had it the easy way.

In this picture, my tray-table is turned down, with papers and pens scattered about, with a few papers crunched in little balls of papers. These papers contain my six "If I die letters." There are two copies of three letters; one letter went to my parents, the other to my best-friend since second grade, and one to my boyfriend. I gave one copy of my letters to the chaplain, our "Padre", and one to our corpsman, "Doc". I never really fathomed in seven months, our Padre would be giving me my last rights, but Doc will successfully save my life. I actually received Last Rites twice by two different Padres, even though I am not Catholic..


I was in sleeping the picture because our Gunnery Sergeant announced in his deep bellowing voice, we would be landing in-country in about three hours, and he advised us to take that time to sleep because who knows when we would be able to sleep again. While I was sleeping in the picture, it wasn't a deep sleep. I am humble enough to admit that I was scared. We were all scared, but we are Marines, and we can't show that emotion, and we couldn't let fear deter our decisions; we never run away from the gunfire. We were going to war, and many of us will die, and will never see their family again. This is just a part of life. I kept thinking about all the wars in the Bible, and throughout history. Going to war is sadly just a realistic part of life. People have been going to war since the start of the human race. Even though I was a 17-years old female, I knew there was a good chance I would never live to see 18.

I sent my mother a package with the disposable camera. She was later detained by a police officer when she tried to get the camera developed at our local Walmart. A police officer was summoned by a worried photograph employee. He was worried because my mother had a picture of a woman sitting on a plane with a loaded assault rifle in her arm, in addition to a lot of ammunition you could visibly see. They wondered why there were pictures of streets with road signs saying "Baghdad" and "Fallujah". Why were there pictures of tanks and fighter jets burning? These pictures were taken in the first months of the war, when the nation was still on heightened alert, and still had a black eye from 9/11. No one was taking any risks. These pictures were considered a potential risk, but were subsequently given back after my mom showed the police officer my boot camp graduation picture which she had in her purse.


After I heard my mom was qyestioned by the police, I got worried I accidentally took a picture of a dead body, but thankfully that wasn't the case. You might have seen other soldiers or Marines on the news taking inappropriate pictures, I swear on the Bible NOT ONE Marine in my unit ever did, or would have done that. We respected the dead, American or Iraqi.

After a close friend of mine died,I hated God for many, many years. I wish I knew why God took him and not me. A few years ago, his widow called me and told me that she had remarried, the kids were doing great, and for me not to be grieved for what had happened. I am slowly starting to escape this fog of grief and anger. She told me to move on with my life, because she had, and that is what he would have wanted.

This picture can never, ever, ever, be recreated again legally. You can't even have a 2. oz. toothpaste on planes, let alone a loaded assault rifle, and with enough rounds for a decent police standoff. Sadly, with the life of the military, pictures and important memorabilia get lost, but important memories never do.

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    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you for your service.

    • profile image

      bobtyndall 3 years ago

      Alli, In 1960 a flunked out of Grade 11. I was 17. In January of 61 I applied to Join the PPCLI in Canada. I was still 17 and my dad had to sign for me. I only did a 3 year hitch and then got out. It was peace time and the army was down sizing. I am sure it was a life changing experience for you. Your parents must have been damn proud of you. What do you do now that you're not 17 any more :)

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Hi bob, you can join at 17 if both parents sign the enlistment papers, which emancipated me. I appreciate your touching comment, thank you.

    • profile image

      bobtyndall 3 years ago

      Hi Alli

      I'm surprised you where in the marines at 17. I thought you had to be 18 to join any military. But I have to say, I wish there where a hell of a lot more teens like you in this country. For some reason I'm writing this with tears in my eyes. I'm 71 years old and I love ya babe.

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      I highly recommend joining the military.which one is your choice, but the Marines will treat you like a person, not a number. Being a Marine is one of my highest honors. I love that I have a built in brotherhood and sisterhood with thousands of Marines. We all have this unspoken understanding. But join any branch you like, I'm biases. Plus, females only make up 6% of the Marines, while I think the Army is around 40%. With the Marines we are special, valued, and protected by a bunch of big brothers.

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      I love being a marine all the way! I didn't jump on the wrong bus! Ooh rah ! Yut! Kill!

    • TheEllios profile image

      TheEllios 3 years ago from The Inland Empire

      I am a petite 25 year old female and I'm considering joining the Army. However i have reservations and fears. After reading your articles, it has given me some insight into what females in the military go through. I plan on making a final decision at the end of the month and I was wondering what advice or knowledge you would be able to share with me, one on one. I'd appreciate it if we could exchange emails, as it would help me to talk to someone who has already served our country. Thank you and god bless.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 3 years ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      As a young female Marine, you have a unique perspective, Allison. Thanks for sharing your difficult experiences of military life. I learn something new every time I read one of your hubs.

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 3 years ago

      My Husband was a Marine, once a Marine, ALWAYS a MARINE. I shed my tears as I read your story, and look forward to reading and being educated as well. Thanks for sharing and best wishes for your recovery...And a WARM Welcome to Hub Pages, we are like a "Family" of Writers here. I look forward to Following your Hubs.

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for sharing this important memory. I'm rooting for you. Best wishes!

    • Razel Magick profile image

      ZinaRae 3 years ago from Azusa, California

      Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us. I really enjoyed reading about your experience in the military. I know one reason you are with us, it is so you can share your feelings and thoughts with the world. Please keep sharing!

    • Emdagny profile image

      Nancy 3 years ago from Florida

      This hub amazed me. Nobody can thank you enough for your service and thank you for writing this hub. I will pray you are recovering. There is so much in this hub. The little details got to me. That the Walgreens technician would call the police on your Mom about the photos you sent is not something I would have guessed could ever happen. That at such a young age you have seen much death and survived an explosion makes you incredible. We can't do enough for our vets. It is because of people like you that we have our freedom.

    • norabons profile image

      Nora 3 years ago from Ghana

      You are a very brave woman, thanks for sharing. God bless you. Thanks a million, you are my first follower,, I can't forget you

    • Alli Rose profile image
      Author

      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you all for your kind words. The Marines in my unit don't pay too much attention to politics. It doesn't matter if we like or hate the President, we didn't go to war for them. In the Marines, the most important things to us are God, Corps, and Country in that order.

      My unit wasn't originally going to send me until I was 18, but I begged and pleaded to go. My whole unit was going, and I didn't want to be stuck on base in the States. Even with what had happened, I would volunteer to go back. The fact is, Marines like action, even the 17-year olds, and the females.

    • bensen32 profile image

      Thomas Bensen 3 years ago from Round Lake Park

      Alli,

      Thank you for sharing your story. It was very touching and I know it was hard to write but sometimes putting it into words can be very helpful and freeing. I'm a little old school and have put it down on paper over the years and i'm sure I have 100's if not 1000's of pages of thoughts and memories and have found it very helpful.

      I hope that you are living well and enjoying each day you have. Thank you for your service and sacrifice.

      Semper Fi my sister. Always move forward, remember the past and never forget those that gave everything. It is our Duty to them that we not live in the past but make the most of the future.

      Bensen32

    • macteacher profile image

      Wendy Golden 3 years ago from New York

      I can't even imagine...thank you so much for sharing such a difficult experience. I have no reference point for what you've been through. However, you and all of our other military men and women have my eternal gratitude for having the courage to do what most of us cannot. I hope you make your way through the sadness and live a wonderful life. Thank you for your sacrifices.

    • DealForALiving profile image

      Sam Deal 3 years ago from Earth

      What a devastatingly sad and true hub. The casualties of war are just catastrophic.

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile image

      Ed Palumbo 3 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      We are Marines a generation and a war apart, but there are parallels and issues that I wish I could discuss with you. Some things haven't changed since the Roman legions were issued swords and sandals. Remain strong, and know that the quality of your future is in your hands. You are a normal human being who has survived abnormal and extreme circumstances. Regrettably, some did not, and a part of us dies with them, while the greater part of us must live for them. I agree, time does not heal all wounds but, hopefully, it teaches us to live with them and to use them to propel us forward. Much of what you will encounter in time will mystify and frustrate you, because your perspective and world view will likely be different than those of the uninitiated. I urge you to discuss the anger, the issues you may encounter or experience with other Marines, other veterans, because civilians (no matter how well intended) will not be able to relate, and that tends to isolate us, to discourage communication and resolution. Never lose sight that your life is a gift, and make the most of that gift. Like you, I questioned the existence of a loving God who would permit my brothers to die, but God gave us free will and I've no doubt He shakes His head sadly with the way we've used it. He didn't kill any of us; as enemies, we killed each other. I remain thankful for the friendships that are rooted in the Corps and I maintain communication with men and women who are closer to me than blood relatives. We remain part of each others lives, and get together to celebrate the special occasions. Over time, we've watched each other age and our shared humor is merciless. As you press on with your life, you are not abandoning those we lost; you are embracing your future. Don't let the past hold you back. As Marines, as Americans, we will always have enemies…and they would take great satisfaction in killing us or, failing that, permanently impacting the quality of our lives. Fill your life with the people, the classes, the sights and sounds, the moments that bring out the best in you. Build bridges, not walls, and know you are unique and valued by those who can relate. Semper Fi, and I'd like to read more of whatever you write.

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      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your story. I don't know what else to say.

    • ForEverProud profile image

      Jeanne Rene 3 years ago from Northern California

      Alli,

      As a mother of a U.S. Marine who served in Afghanistan, you have to realize that I read your words as if I am reading what a daughter would be writing. Since my own son has shared with me very little of his experience (and I understand why) your words give me more insight and understanding as to what our warrior sons and daughters experience. I know it is not easy to share these most personal experiences/memories so I commend you on having the courage and vulnerability to do so.

      While reading I wished that you could recover the precious photo of which you spoke for surely it has much significance to you, but I hope that in relaying your story that, if not physically, but simply emotionally you feel you have secured the memory. Yes, 17 is so young, but we have to remember that our 17 and 18 year old women and men today make the choice to service freely and that as a Marine you were tested to see if you had the "right stuff" to serve our country during boot camp. You earned your Eagle, Globe and Anchor. Our wars are fought on the ground by our young ... my dad enlisted the day he turned 18 (WWII) and my husband was drafted at 19 (Vietnam), and returning from battle you deserve both gratitude and support.

      For your friends and comrades who gave their lives I offer my condolences. I am not surprised that you write that your partner was "a nicer human being" or that you feel guilt, because what I've come to learn is it the overwhelming grief and compassion that survivors feel and yet are sometimes unable to express, manifests in these feelings .... perhaps for many, many years. My son has also hinted at these very same feelings, but doesn't every fully speak of it.

      I was also very moved when you spoke of the "if I die letters." That is something that must be faced under your circumstances and in some strange way I think it must be comforting to know that ones wishes have been expressed. On the opposite end when I received a phone call from my son prior to his deployment ... he hit me with "how would I like to be informed in case of his death" and other such questions. So in a way I understand what it must feel like to fill out such letter.

      Alli, I am glad you are home. I am happy you survived to live a full and long life. I am sorry for the lose of your dear brothers and sisters in arms. I am grateful and indebted for your serve to our nation. Semper Fidelis!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 3 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Alli - It is brave of you to reenact the experiences you had as a marine in Iraq, especially your dreadful wound, loss of comrades, and the entire war experience. I hope you are recovering, physically and mentally. I do believe that a 17-year-old teenager is too young for active duty in the military and am appalled that the government allows people of such a tender age to join and be sent into battle. While maturity comes to individuals at different rates, I just don't believe a 17-year-old young woman has the life experience necessary for such a choice and should be protected by regulations.

      I hope you are able to get the V.A. and military benefits due you without any problems. The U.S. has no trouble sending young people to fight in wars, but there are many returning soldiers who are struggling to get their benefits while V.A. hospitals all over the country are being investigated (and rightly so) for not providing them in a timely manner.

      Although you didn't make it clear, and I haven't read your other hubs about your service (which I will), I don't know if you still feel that the Iraq war that took so many lives--military and civilian--was justified. In light of what is now happening in that part of the world, many vets who served there no longer support that war. I suppose I will learn your feelings about it as I read more.

      However, no matter how I feel about the war or the then-Commander-in-Chief who plunged the U.S. into a conflagration with Iraq to further his own agenda, I want you to know that I value you and every other service person who willingly went to fight in this war while people like me--an aging lady--sat at home and prayed for both our troops and innocents caught in the fighting (collateral damage). Thank you for your sacrifice, and I hope your ongoing life will compensate for the pain and suffering you endured in active duty and afterward.

      Jaye

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      Along with the wind 3 years ago from colorado

      Great hub alli!

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 3 years ago from Lakewood New York

      You have shared a painful personal experience, and all I can say is God Bless You, and all who protect us.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This was a solemn and poignant piece, and I thank you for writing about your experience. I have shared it so that others can read about your experience. Voted up and more.

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Memories like this are heartbreaking. Once again, I feel a strong need to thank you over and over for all that you and partner did too ensure our freedom. But at what cost? Thank you