I am a free man because it is legal to kill another man under our nation’s colors. Because we are asked to do this to preserve our freedom. After 13 years, I am still just as ashamed of thos event as I was the day of, horrified that I can commit such an act, and troubled that I am not deemed suitable for punishment for taking a life of an unarmed senior, fleeing us, and scared.
People often say that not all wounds are visible, and to this end I can agree 100%. This story is written from the perspective of the grandson of the unarmed, non-dangerous man I killed in Iraq. I am forever ashamed and tormented, living in this day, being reminded of the horrible atrocity I committed, and the horrendous actions I am capable of. Before my time, I want the world to know that I have tried my hardest to be a good man. I have launched nonprofits to save lives, helped everyone I can in their time of need, and tried to make up for what I have done. To this end, nothing can make up for what I’ve done.
Read this with an appreciation for the demons we endure for your freedoms, and how you send men to more than a death by bullets and gunfire, but to death within us when we get back home. To my women and men in arms, my brethren and sisters of combat, dont give up. Be stronger.
Another day dawning on the horizon, the sun shines through the window to reflect the need to rise with it. Another schoolday, my parents coax me into a fair set of clothing to get ready for my day of learning and development. Oh how the textbooks read, sharing countless stories of lands far away and the events that pertain both to today and of our shared history of humanity. Little could I have known, today would be a day that would give testament to the humanity that no textbook could possibly portray, in a way that would forever change the perspective of my life.
At 6 years old, and full of wonder, I walked to school, observing the normal course of our people. Good hearted and full of compassion, my grandfather held my hand as we walked to school together. Always full of wisdom and advice, my grandfather always instilled the best that he wanted me to portray, being kind and helpful to those around him. So much experience to be shared, I became a sponge to his teachings in every regard. I looked up to him, standing proud and with honor, I couldnt help but to aspire to be just like him.
The same as most days for as long as I could remember, the US Forces patrolled the streets, bringing a level of protection and admiration to what I hope Iraq could become. Always in droves, the US Forces moved through our streets trying to find, kill, or capture the bad men that would have us harm or hurt each other in the name of our God. I couldnt possibly begin to understand why the world was what it was, and the complexities that brought the Americans here. Before I was even born there was some men that had the idea of attacking them, and so many innocent people were hurt. A symbol of prosperity and wealth, the towers in New York fell under the unjust saber of those that my people fear and despise, bringing pain and discourse to our proud country.
I was told that the Americans couldnt understand the difference, that to the world, we were dangerous and uncontrollable as a result of the few, without regard to the many. I couldnt blame the Americans for being here. They are proud, standing tall, and their pride was crushed in a single moment in which the embers of fear and hatred spawned a war that couldnt possibly be waged and won, but I admired their conviction all the same. The wanted to make our country better, bringing medicine, schools, and infrastructure that we had been lacking and had gone without for so long under the rule of oppressive tyrants. I was excited to see what our country could become, and I yearned for our country and people to be just as proud.
Walking with my grandfather, he bestowed some insight about the Americans as we watched theirtrucks traverse our land. “They are here for the wrong reasons, but with the right intentions. They are driven by revenge, but want to do good.” He said, “I hope that they can defeat the men that took our pride from us”. Even though he may not have supported the occupation, he understood that resistance could bring troubles in ways we couldnt begin to understand.
“When will they leave? When do they know that they’ve won?” I asked, to which he responded “Its hard to say, they are here to avenge those they lost by the hands of bad people of our country. They may never leave, but it’s important to understand that even under their rule, we are proud. We are good people”. With this, we arrived at school and I hugged my grandfather just like any other day, unknown to me that this would be the last time that I would see his smile across his face. “Go learn about the world. Give praise to Allah for all of the good in our lives, and pray for the sun to rise again tommorrow”. We said our goodbyes and I walked into our school with bright eyes, excited to learn.
After school, my grandfather was there to greet me. “How did you do today?” He asked, “Did you find the answers you hoped to find in your books?” I was so excited to tell him about the massive wall that the Chinese built, and how unimaginably big it was. We laughed and talked all the way home, bringing a close to my day of learning and exploring my imagination. My grandfather had some things to do, so we hugged and I ran inside to help my mom with the chores, and to listen to my father talk about his company and the issues he was trying to fix. We really were a family that was generally unimpaired by the war, keeping our chins high and taking each day at a time. I watched as my grandfather left our front yard, watching his movements, learning how to be just like my hero.
A few hours later, the sun was going down and dinner was all ready, but my grandfather was still out taking care of his duties, and we would always wait for him to get home so we could eat as a family. As the time passed, we grew impatient, and I could hear my dad complaining that my grandfather was never on time, and that we should start without him before the food became cold. I was never one to argue with my father, but we had a tradition that I loved, where we could all come together and share our stories of the day with each other and laugh at the silliness in life. “We should wait, God wills when he will show up, and we must respect the will of Allah.” I demanded, “What would become of us without our family?” Of which my parents agreed, we waited in near silence as we reflected how shortsighted our decision was.
It wasnt uncommon to hear gun fire off in the distance, as the brave Americans and the bad men fought for territory or power or otherwise. You could listen to the gunfire and be able to hear the differences in guns used, with the deep throbbing booms of the heavy machine guns and the lighter pops of the rifles (american), and the slightly heavier pops of the AK rifles (bad men). I used to lay in bed and think of what was going on. Were the good guys going to win? What if they didn’t? What would happen to us or my friends if the Americans lost? So many questions that my imagination played tricks with. But this was different. Closer, and only one shot rang out. I was pretty sure that it was an American gun, but I couldnt really be sure. It was curious though, why was there only one shot? What could’ve happened to cause such a short battle? At this time I could help but be concerned, it’s running late and our grandfather still wasnt home. I felt a strong need to run outside and see what was happening, but I had to make sure it was safe. I listened for a few minutes, and could hear the Americans talking in their strange language, like a code I couldnt understand. They were shouting, but without the translator yelling commands, which was so odd because they always wanted to reach out to us and be able to converse. Whenever I’ve seen them yelling at another local, the code talker always translated it for them.
And then it fell silent. No vehicles moving, no gunfire, no more shouting. Just the quite humm of their engines nearby. It was peaceful again, but it was almost too quiet. Curious, I went to go peek at what they were doing. I snuck out the side door and creeped up the stone wall to the sliding gate. I was still for a moment, listening for my parents to make sure I wouldnt get caught, and finally got the nerve to peer out the gate where I thought that curious one shot rang out. What I saw I couldnt comprehend, a sudden flourish of panic and fear coursed through my blood as I witnessed my grandfather lying on his back, surrounded by American soldiers. They weren’t yelling at him, but kneeling by his side talking quietly amongst themselves. One American was frantically pulling items from a large bag, with items littering the pavement next to him, while most of the other Americans were looking in every other direction. What were they doing? Why was my grandfather laying on his back?
What seemed like an eternity had passed, my heart pounding in my chest, I couldn’t take it any longer. I needed to protect him, my idol, I needed to know he was ok. Thoughts were racing through my mind, what did they do to him? They weren’t yelling at him, so why was he laying down? Was he hurt? With this thought, I came barreling out of the gate, tripping over my own feet as I tried to make it to my grandfathers side. I ran as fast as I could, the thoughts racing faster than my feet as I struggled to make sense of what was happening.
As I approached the Americans, they didnt respond like they normally would. They are usually on edge because of all the bad men that would fight them. We had always been taught to never run at the Americans or to provoke them, but this thought never tossed my mind at this moment. I needed to get to my grandfather to help him. Maybe I could help, maybe I can talk to the Americans and convince them to let him go. Hes a good man, I practiced in my head, he couldn’t have done anything wrong. Surely they could see that. They are good people, so good can see good right?
I was about 20 meters from them now, within my mousey shouting distance, and I screamed out to them “Please dont hurt my grandfather!” I pleaded, to which attracted a series of lasers onto my shirt, “Hes a good man! Hes like you Americans!”. And at this time I was stopped in my tracks, not by the Americans, but by the reality of what I saw before me. My grandfather, my idol, my mentor, my favorite person, was lying on his back in a pool of blood. He was hurt, but he wasnt crying out like I would if I hurt, I just couldnt understand and i needed to be by him. But i couldnt move, trapped by fear, overcome by confusion, immersed in panic, with several Americans aiming at me with their weapons. I saw the man that helps them understand us, and I cried out to him “What is going on? What’s happened to my grandfather?”, to which he looked at the Americans and spoke in their coded language for what seemed like forever. “Answer me!” I demanded as I fought my tears , “What have you done?!?”. A few seconds later, the lasers dropped from my clothing, and an American man came to me with the code talker, and kneeled next to me and placed his hand on my shoulder, with tears in his eyes, only to escape and be coursing down his cheeks.
“Son, do you know this man?” The American asked, which was only understood as the code talker translated it to me. I nodded to the American as I reciprocated his tears, feeling a weight bear down on me as i started to understand the situation. He turned and said a few things to the other Americans,
And it seemed that their downed and dampened spirits broke again with my presence. Some of the men started becoming upset, yelling at the man that was talking to me, and others were yelling at them, it was all so very confusing, but he took my hand and he looked at me in the eyes, and we shared a silent moment behind tears, with both of us wiping the tears as they came.
“Your grandfather has been seriously hurt” he struggled to say, “We thought he was one of the bad men that would hurt other people”. With this, the American stepped aside from my path to my grandfather, and I ran to him, only to see for myself what they meant. I collapsed in my anguish, an uncontrollable flood of emotions and thoughts that I couldnt even begin to comprehend overwhelmed me.
“But hes ok though, you can make him better?” I cried, “surely you can help him!” “Why are you just standing there?!?! Help him!” I pleaded, “Why isnt anyone doing anything?”. I saw the American earlier that was digging through his bag, and I saw the red cross that reminded me of the people that gave us food and clothes last week, surely he would help us. “Please help my grandfather, he is a good man. Hes kind and gentle and means the best always.”, to which he responded “I’m sorry. I’m so so so sorry.”. Hes eyes were like mine, pained and full of tears. I became frantic, why was nobody helping? Why will they do nothing? I began to run to each American, grabbing onto them and shaking them with all my might “Please! PLEASE!!!!! Somebody please help him!” But it was helpless. They didnt push me away, but just let me shake them. One American grabbed me and hugged me as tight as he could, and we spent a second crying together before he let me go, and I ran back to my grandfathers side.
“Papa, please get up. Your not in trouble, they aren’t mad, please get up. Your scaring me, PAPA PLEASE, GET UP!” I screamed as loud as I could. But there was no response. He was breathing, he was looking at me, but no movement. No talking. What did they do to him?!?! Why would they do this TO him?!?!
He never got up. I could see him struggle to reach out to me, and I embraced his hand and hugged him, resting my head on his chest. I could feel and hear the thunder of his heartbeat in his chest, and we stayed there for what seemed like an eternity. I could hear his breaths, and everything around us was quiet. This was the last moment I would get to spend with my grandfather, killed by the hands of those that were supposed to be here to help.
I pleaded again, but without hope. My spirit crushed, I just looked around at all of the Americans surrounding us, pleading for my grandfathers life. It was of no hope, a futile waste of moments that became eternities. The code speaker was telling them what I was saying, and it seemed to impact them too. One of the men ripped off his helmet and threw it on the ground as he struggled to cope with what he was hearing and seeing, perhaps in anguish. I watched him pace a few times, and it dawned on me.
There was nothing that they could do.
This was it. This is the last moments I’ll be able to spend with my grandfather. I held onto his hand, and I wanted to make sure he knew how much I loved him and how much he meant to me. “Thank you for being there for me” I told him, “Your the person I want to become, I’m going to grow up to be just like you. I love you papa.”. He was silent, but I felt that he could understand me, so I kept talking to him as the code talker translated my words to him, to the Americans. “I’ll never forget you” I spoke softly “but please, please fight for life.” I was hoping that my words might change the outcome, but a part of me knew it wouldnt. How could it? I’m 6 at this time, I couldnt have changed anything about this, but I couldnt help but try.
Then it happened. I heard him breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, and then there was no breathing in. Just a silence where there used to be the booming of a strong heart, a lack of his chest rising, and he went limp. After a few seconds I realized that he was in trouble, and I screamed out in a frenzy for help, but again it fell on deaf ears. I was alone, surrounded by the men that killed my grandfather, but I knew I wasnt in danger. One of the Americans came to me and pulled me off of my grandfather as I fought him to hold on to papas hand. I wasnt ready to let go, I couldnt accept what was happening. I was so confused. Was I dreaming? No, I could feel the rocks under my feet. I could feel the air, the heat from the earth, I had to be awake. This was real.
They pulled me to the side and began to talk to me with the code talker. “We are so sorry to have caused this loss for you and your family” he said, “Your grandpa was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he refused to stop when we were shouting at him to stop. We thought he was a bad man trying to escape”.
How could they think that of my papa? He was the nicest man I knew, but I understood that they made a mistake. A mistake that took my hero, my papa, away from me. Took his life from him, took the father of my parents away. I was furious. I was overwhelmed with anger, “He cant hear well!” I screamed at them, “He didnt hear you, so you killed him!” I began to punch the American as hard as I could in the chest, maybe he could feel the pain that I do. Maybe he could understand what they’ve done.
The American didnt move. He didn’t try to stop me. He just let he hit his vest as many times as I wanted, until I collapsed in my own agony and misery. I looked to my grandfather to see them picking him up to put him in a large black bag, and I jumped up and began to run to them, screaming at them. How dare they touch him! “DONT YOU TOUCH HIM!” I screamed at them, “MURDERERS!!!!” But I was swiftly held back, and enveloped into a hug by the American that I fought so hard to struggle against. It was all so helpless.
The Iraqi army showed up, and I began to scream to them “They murdered my grandfather! They killed him because he couldnt hear!”. They paid me little attention, only gathering the black bag that my grandfather was in, and took me by the hand to take me home. As I got into their truck, I looked back at the Americans which were all standing there looking at me, full of such pain in their eyes, and I felt that they understood the gravity of what they’ve done.
They extinguished a bright light, ripping a kind soul from this place that was so hard to find. Who was going to walk me to school now? Who was I going to share my day with now? When will I get to see my grandfather again?
It’s been 11 years since that day, and the Americans are still here. They still patrol our streets, trying to make things safer. What about my life since that day though? Am I anti-American now? Did I become a terrorist? Did I grow to fight and despise the Americans?
Since this is written by one of the American soldiers there that night, it’s impossible to tell. In 11 years, this defining moment changed me entirely. A heavy weight and burden to know that one shot, one mistake, one moment, would lead to a life long wound that haunts and torments me, because it brought pain and suffering to a 6 year old boy. Although this story is from the boys perspective, the impact of that night is a very real impact, with a real death, and a real casualty of war.
We went to Iraq to seek vengeance for the death of thousands, and only brought pain and misery to Americans and Iraqis alike. We have veterans with soul wounds from instances like this, that may never heal. Losses of life that are unjustifiable, because nothing can bring those from 9/11 back.
This story is real, like the impacts of war.