Every day, I hear all kinds of stories. But, on occasion, when you’re really lucky, you hear one that you’ll never forget. It’s a weekday and late afternoon. This guy I know, Larry, walks up to the bar and sits down beside me in his usual chair. After a few Buds and some light-hearted conversation, I ask the guy, “So, what’s your story man?” He tells me that a while ago he came back from Iraq. He was with an Infantry National Guard Unit from right here in Pensacola. Larry reenlisted post-9/11. In other words, he’s a 9/11 recruit. His unit was called up early on into the war. “It was like the wild west. Tombstone,” as he puts it. The days were long and he couldn’t quite describe the heat. We talked about the boredom in-between patrols. We talked about a fire fight that his unit mistakenly thought were fireworks since it was the Fourth of July (forgetting the fact that it’s a uniquely American holiday). And, after another Bud, he mentioned his buddy who took a bullet to the face at point blank range.
They were on a patrol, somewhere near Sadr City, when a guy walks up with a .38 caliber pistol and blasts his pal in the face. After the unit returned from patrol, everyone wondered about their friend. Did he make it? Everyone elects Larry to be the guy to go check on him at the hospital. By nature, Larry’s a guy who lights up a room. At the time, it just seemed like the right person to send out there. Larry stuck by his buddy’s hospital bed for days. He didn’t want him to wake up in an empty room. Amazingly, the guy’s injury amounted to a chipped tooth, probably some emotional trauma and a load of pain. I know what you’re thinking. It sounded quite incredible to me as well. I can speculate that we don’t know how old the weapon was or its condition. But, I’ve learned to never question a miracle. Nonetheless, when Larry returned to base, his unit was already preparing for another mission. He hadn’t slept in days, but he’d just seen his friend get shot in the face and there was no army powerful enough to stop him from going back out. He asked if he could be on point for this mission.
They were clearing some houses and confiscating illegal weapons when a nearby IED explosion blasts so close to Larry, had he been a few feet up the road, he’d be dead. His commander barks an order: “We’re clearing this house to the left.” Larry and his unit stack up in their usual formation that had become second nature by this time. Larry prepares to enter the house when an old man just opens the door, probably to check out the nearby explosion. Larry is a little shocked. “Sarge, can you come up here? There’s this old guy in the doorway.” The old man gets cleared from the entryway and Larry waits for the signal to go. He’s tapped in the back, and the stack enters the room. There was an explosion outside moments before and this house was suspected of harboring illegal weapons. Larry had just seen his friend take a .38 caliber projectile to the face so everyone’s extra cautious and on edge. As Larry enters the room, there’s a young man standing there. Without hesitation, he subdues the guy on the floor. And, as the team works on clearing the rest of the room, Larry sets his sights down the long hallway.
At this point in the story, Larry’s facial expression has changed. He’s smiling and dare I say, almost giddy. He can barely utter the words. “Keep in mind, we almost bought the farm with that explosion outside, and we almost lost our friend so we’re in no mood to play around. Everyone is focused and all locked and loaded,” he explains. He’s in the zone. In fact, everything around him has taken on film quality slow motion. He’s peering down the sight of his weapon hoping for the best but expecting the worst when he sees this woman walk out in her nightgown from an adjacent room. Larry hadn’t seen women wearing anything other than their traditional dressing covering everything but the eyes and hands. And, in that instant, for what was probably quite literally an instant, he forgets he’s in Iraq. He forgets he’s at war. He forgets that his friend had just been shot. He forgets about the explosion outside that nearly killed him. He forgets he’s holding a man down on the ground. As he tells me holding back laughter, for that instant, all he can think to himself is, “Wow. She has amazing boobies.”
You see, in the midst of hell, humanity remains. We’re all just human. In the existence of humanity, perfection isn’t present. Larry’s momentary interruption is just a reflection of that humanity in the face of chaos. I’m glad he’s home now. I love Larry’s stories.