Veteran Reflects on Soldiers Killed in Iraq For soldier Patrick Campbell, Memorial Day isn't just about barbecue and yellow ribbons. In an op-ed for The San Francisco Chronicle, he remembers two fellow soldiers killed in Iraq.
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Veteran Reflects on Soldiers Killed in Iraq

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LYNN NEARY, host:

For those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Memorial Day is far-removed from the yellow ribbons, patriotic parades and sweet-smelling barbecues of the home front. Holidays, for some troops, are hard to celebrate.

Patrick Campbell didn't mark Memorial Day while he was in Iraq, serving with the Louisiana Army National Guard. But today in the San Francisco Chronicle, Campbell remembers two fellow soldiers who were killed two years ago this week while they were on patrol in northwest Baghdad.

And we'd like to hear from you. If you served in Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq, what's Memorial Day like for you? Give us a call. Our number here in Washington, 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can send a comment to our blog: npr.org/blogofthenation.

Patrick Campbell is legislative director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and he's with me now in Studio 3-A. So good to have you.

Mr. PATRICK CAMPBELL (Legislative Director, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America): It's definitely a pleasure to be here.

NEARY: Tell me, first of all, you didn't celebrate Memorial Day when you were in - serving in Iraq. Were you even aware of it that it was…

Mr. CAMPBELL: I mean, the day before, we had had the funeral for the two soldiers who have been killed. And the next day, it was just business as usual. It's as if, you know, they hadn't even been there. We are going on patrol. I remember getting up, going to breakfast, getting in the Humvees, going out, sitting out there for 12 hours, coming home, you know, trying to send a couple of emails back home and go and sleep. It was just like every other day I had been - I mean, at that point, we had been there almost nine months.

And I was so non-remarkable that it sat with me that night. I was just writing on my journal because I couldn't think. I mean, this is Memorial Day. This is the day that everyone is back home, celebrating us. And I couldn't - I didn't even know it was there.

NEARY: Tell me what happened with your two friends.

Mr. CAMPBELL: I was - originally, when I got to Iraq, I was assigned to the tanker unit. Later on, I was assigned to another unit, and they were out in patrol almost two years ago today and they were just - it was really hot. It was 120 degrees, I think, that day and they decided to park under a palm tree. And when one of them got out to grab an MRE, a Meal, Ready-to-Eat, a sniper hidden in one of the buildings shot him. He fell to the ground and one of the other soldiers jumped off the tank and tried to cover his body. And while he was covering his body, he was also shot by the sniper.

So we had gone about seven months or maybe even seven or eight months at that point without losing any of our soldiers in our company. And then one day, we lost two soldiers by the same sniper. And - I mean, one of the hardest things when you're there is, you know, the boredom. But the second thing is, you know, you're always in danger. When all of the sudden you think that at any moment you can be killed, it takes you to a whole new level. And that - you know, these are guys we knew. These are, you know - everyone knows their families. I mean, one of them left a wife. One of them left a kid. And it was just hard.

I mean, I didn't know that until we were in the memorial ceremony and I was reading just a little bit about them. I mean, I knew something about them. And I just started crying. I got in that point that it's business as usual. But when I read the, you know, there's a wife back home who's getting a letter, you know, and there's a kid who's going to have to be explained every Memorial Day from here on out that his father died around here, it's just - for me, it just hurts you in the ways you can't imagine.

NEARY: So what does Memorial Day mean to you now?

Mr. CAMPBELL: I mean, Memorial Days is a day of thanks. I mean, it's a day to say prayers. I mean, for me, while I was there, there were too many close calls, where if we could - if we had gone left or if we had gone right, then, you know, who knows what would happen. So I say prayers for those people who are over there because like I said, too many close calls.

NEARY: Well, one thing that you wrote about in your editorial page editorial is that it's different. Memorial Day is really different for people who have served in Iraq than for people who are here trying to, in some way, mark the occasion.

Mr. CAMPBELL: Well, I think it's not just different for the people who served. It's different for people who are somewhat personally connected to the war itself. I mean, the hardest job they say in the military is to be a military spouse. I mean, you have people's family members and their friends. And to be honest with you, those people, who every day, the war becomes personal, Memorial Day, you know - they've made their sacrifice. And it means something more to someone who's slapping a $1 magnetic yellow ribbon on the back of the car.

Don't get me wrong. I have a magnetic yellow ribbon on the back of my car. But it means something more to them when they have spent a year of their life, you know, 15 months of their life being scared that their loved one will never come home.

NEARY: And will it - it's going to mean something more to you for the rest of your life, you're saying.

Mr. CAMPBELL: For the rest? For the rest…

NEARY: I mean, did it mean anything to you before you went there, really? Or…

Mr. CAMPBELL: I mean, I remember when I was in basic training. In my first Memorial Day, I spent in basic training, you know, going to a barbeque. That was one of our first days that we had free, that we could go out and just - everything - oh, this is about me. This is about me. Now, it's not about me. When I came back from Iraq, then I realized it was about the people who didn't come home.

NEARY: We're talking with Patrick Campbell. He's the legislative director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. And we're going to take a call now. We're going to Dan and he is in Minnesota.

Hi, Dan. Dan, are you there?

Mr. DAN CADILLAC(ph) (Caller): Yes. I can barely hear you.

NEARY: Okay, well, go ahead. We can hear you, Dan.

Mr. CADILLAC: Okay. Yeah, my name is Dan Cadillac(ph). I'm a combat veteran of Vietnam. On July 3, 1970, I was in a small Navy boat. I was in the Army but we went out on patrol on different, you know, using different kinds of crafts. And we're coming back in off an operation and we saw a tripwire strung across the irrigation canal at - we are coming down on the spot 25 feet wide and couldn't stop, slip into the tripwire and Vietnamese had booby-trapped a 155 mm artillery shell right on the shore. And it blew up and the boat capsized and all 11 of us on board were injured. Myself, I ended up losing my left leg below the knee and also had a cardiac injury.

Our medic - what I mostly want to talk about is our medic, William Timothy Dorothy(ph), was in the second boat. And I wasn't even aware of it, but I found out a few years ago that he held me up in the water until I was medevaced. And I knew that he had drowned at that site, but I didn't know that he drowned as a result of holding me up until I could be medevaced.

NEARY: So you remember him - you remember him on this day, I would think.

Mr. CADILLAC: I always remember him and I am in contact with his family through email. I'm always - well, I always welcome the opportunity to talk about Doc Dorothy and how he gave the last full measure of devotion that, which obviously benefited me in this case.

NEARY: Dan, thanks so much for calling in with that.

Mr. CADILLAC: Thank you. Thank you for your show.

NEARY: Thank you. And I just want to remind our audience that you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Patrick, you were a medic as well, is that right?

Mr. CAMPBELL: Right. I mean it's, when you get the call, I mean, someone gets hurt and, you know, gun, you know, bullets can be blitzing by you and you've just got to, you've got to - it's focus. I remember the first time I ever saw one of my guys got hurt, it was 155 mm artillery shell, which is the weapon of choice. They set up an IED on the side of the road and it hit one of the Humvees in from of us. And I remember the Humvee caught on fire and one of the guys kind of fell out of the Humvee, and I remember thinking to myself, this is it. Like, he's going to die.

And it's funny because - when I say it's funny, you know, we have to laugh about these things now. When I got to - so when I started treating him, I don't remember anything that happened around me. I don't remember the Humvee eventually blowing up into the air. I don't remember a Black Hawk helicopter landing only 50, 60 feet down the road. All I remember, I was trying to figure out how to cut that guy's body armor off, and hoping that I could keep him safe while all these stuff was going on.

And, you know, when you have your brothers, I mean, you don't even like each other half the time. You know, arguing with - I'm from California. These guys were from Louisiana. They call me Tootsie(ph). I mean, it was - we fought all of the time. But when it came down to us versus them, you know, these are my brothers. And all I could focus on was making sure that this guy was going to be - he was going to go home to his family.

NEARY: Well, I should say you don't look a thing like Tootsie, by the way. We're going to take another call now. We got a call to Ed(ph) from York, Pennsylvania. Hi, Ed.

ED (Caller): Hi. How are you?

NEARY: Good. Go ahead.

ED: Yeah. I would just - makes you go back when you listen to all of these veterans, telling their stories, you know, about the combat and the sacrifices that they gave to this great nation of ours, you know. And it just - you know, on another somber, on another note, you know, it's also a somber occasion to remember all the people that didn't come home, you know. And I just want to say to everybody out there, you got to remember the veterans. You got to take care of the veterans. You know, there is veterans out here on the street corners in my hometown. They can't get jobs. They're not getting health care. They're not being taken care of, but they made the ultimate sacrifice to this country. Just like in prior - in wars prior, you know, it's always the common man, you know, the miner, the farmer, you know, the blue-collar worker, that drops his job, leaves his family behind to go serve at a cost and protect this great nation of ours.

And, you know, it just - it rubs me the wrong way when I see veterans being abused. And, you know, I have friends right now that went Desert Storm. One of my buddies right now, he got hit with an IED and he just found out that he's got, you know, brain damage and he had a family - he have a family to support. This guy was trying to go through college - finished college and he had a business and, you know, he never really got checked up by the VA and, you know, he's just really suffering right now.

And I have another buddy that was in Iraq, who got exposed to depleting uranium in the weapons, in the ammunition that we were sending, you know, shelling the Iraqis with. And, you know, he can't have kids. He's got degenerative bone disease and his arms and legs. And he's slowly becoming to cripple.

NEARY: You know, Ed, this is something I'm very glad that you called to remind us of this on Memorial Day. And Patrick, of course, is working on some of these issues here in Washington, I believe. So I thank you very much for your call, Ed. Thank so much.

ED: Thank you very much.

NEARY: We're going to try and get one more call in before we have to go. And that's Fred(ph) from Santa Cruz, California. Fred, we have a limited number of time. With this amount of time, we just like to hear one more story from you, if you're there, still. Are you there, Fred?

FRED (Caller): Yes, I am. I'm a Vietnam veteran of 1958 of the 25th Infantry Division. We worked along the Cambodian border, between Tinh Bien(ph) and Ha Tien. And All I can say is that affects me to this day. I lost so many friends that I really created a bubble around myself, and it exist to this day. I can't establish deep relationships, including with my family. It is not something that just leaves you. One thing I want to bring out is, you know, I had so many close calls. And I'm grateful…

NEARY: You know, Fred, I'm going to - because we're about to run out of time, I'm just going to ask Patrick to quickly wrap up, to remember…

FRED: One quick thing. One quick thing I want to say to all of you out there…

NEARY: Quickly.

NEARY: Is that we fought Chinese there and I've never heard that come out.

NEARY: Okay. That's a big topic we may be can't really get into right now. But I do thank you for your call, Fred.

And Patrick, I think we've run out of time to talk to you. But I know you're working on these issues that these veterans have raised. And this is the day to remember them and thank you so much for helping us to do that.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.

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