We say, “Thanks for your service,” when we meet veterans of the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq veterans.
They can be forgiven if they think “Thanks for your service” is an incomplete thank you, an insincere and hollow expression, showing a lack of understanding and real appreciation of what these men and women had been through.
So how can we appreciate what they have done, if we have no idea about their real experiences?
There is help. In 12 beautifully written and poignant stories in a new book titled “Redeployment,” Iraq veteran Phil Klay’s readers experience vicariously a variety of different situations in Iraq and in the multiple challenges veterans face at home.
In the title story, “Redeployment,” a Marine, newly-returned to Camp Lejeune, compares a shopping trip to Wilmington to his recent high-risk, attention-demanding patrol down the streets of a city in Iraq.
“FARGO” brings its reader into the bloody, dangerous job of clearing city blocks, house by house, dead insurgent by dead insurgent, wounded Marine by wounded Marine.
In “After Action Report,” a lance corporal takes responsibility, credit or blame, for killing a youthful Iraqi insurgent. He tries to prevent the burden of the killing from destroying one of his men.
In “Bodies,” we learn the mechanics of handling the corpses of Marines and insurgents. Then, we see and feel how these experiences destroyed the narrator’s relationship with the only girl he ever loved.
In “OIF” (Operation Iraqi Freedom) the narrator is a Marine paymaster, a non-combat, relatively safe role. But on his way to distribute funds, an explosive device destroys his armored vehicle, wounds him, and kills his assistant. Why his assistant and not him? The question haunts him.
In what The Washington Post calls the book’s “richest and most realized” story, “Money As a Weapons System,” a civilian economic development officer comes to understand how most of the aid he directs goes to corruption and waste.
In “Prayer in the Furnace,” the reader must step into the uneasy shoes of a Marine chaplain. After his expressions of concern about the unconscionable conduct of some officers and policies are ignored, he adjusts uncomfortably to the realities of war.
“Psychological Operations,” though dismissed by a reviewer for The Guardian, was one of my favorites. A returning vet enrolls at Amherst College where he meets another one of the few black students there. She challenges his participation in the war. He tells her with a combination of pride and shame how he tricked a group of insurgents into their deaths. His loudspeaker messages, falsely asserting that his Marines were sexually humiliating the insurgents’ wives, daughters and sisters, provoke them to charge out of their safe hiding places into certain death from Marine Corps firepower.
In “War Stories,” a wounded vet’s face is so severely mangled that he knows he will never again be able to pick up a beautiful woman in a bar.
In “Unless It’s a Sucking Chest Wound,” a Marine veteran follows the struggles of his former Marine colleagues while he wrestles with the temptation of joining a high-paying job as a lawyer in a high-pressure New York law firm.
An artillery gunner in “Ten Kliks South” agonizes over the uncertain results of his unit’s barrage on a distant target, not knowing whether to celebrate or be ashamed of the likely resulting deaths.
After you’ve read a few of these stories, your “Thank Yous” to veterans will be even more heart felt and sincere.