Missing Picture, One Marine's Story
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.