My unit returned from Iraq (A Marine remembers, Part 1)

[Note from Kathie Malley-Morrison:  In recognition and appreciation of his anti-war efforts, Engaging Peace offers the first installment of Ross Caputi’s story]

Iraq soldier

Image in public domain. From Wikimedia Commons.

My unit returned from Iraq to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, in January of 2005. When we arrived on base we were met by crowds of cheering friends and family members.

In the weeks and months that followed, newspapers published articles praising us. Authors interviewed us and wrote books about what we had done in Fallujah. A filmmaker began making a documentary about us. People thanked us for our service, parties and parades were thrown in our honor, and everyone was calling us heroes.

We were met with a wave of praise and veneration, and we rode that wave as if it would never break, celebrating and drinking recklessly.

But eventually that wave did break, and it faded away like all waves do. Yet after our moment of fame had come and gone, we continued celebrating and our drinking only intensified.

The end of that winter and the year that followed are a period of my life that I will never forget. On the surface everyone in my unit was triumphant, proud, and confident.

Perhaps I was the only one, or perhaps there were others, who felt confused and depressed behind that happy facade. I was taking trips with some of the guys from my unit into the ghetto to buy drugs. Maybe they were feeling like I was, indifferent toward life and death; or maybe they felt invincible after having survived Fallujah.

I got the impression that what was driving them was quite different from what was driving me. There was a feeling in my gut that, at that time, was incomprehensible and inexplicable.

Ross Caputi, former Marine, founder of the Justice for Fallujah Project, and former president of the Boston University Anti-War Coalition

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11 Responses to My unit returned from Iraq (A Marine remembers, Part 1)

  1. Gold Dust Twin says:

    I look forward to reading this former marine’s resolution of the incomprehensible and inexplicable feeling in his gut. That’s the feeling I have about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and most other wars in which we find ourselves involved decade after decade. There seems to be no escaping them, other than migrating to Canada–or better, having the courage to speak out, like Ross Caputi.

    • Ross Caputi says:

      Thanks Gold Dust Twin,
      I don’t want to ruin the suspense and tell you where I was going with that, but in the end I came to the same conclusion as you: There’s no escaping that uneasy feeling in your gut, so your options are to either speak out or run away.

      • Jesse Rector says:


        Like you, I have spent a considerable amount of time in Iraq (roughly three years between 05 and 09) and I know all too well about the gut wrenching experiences that it entails. I served in the US Army, 82nd Airborne Division, as an Infantry Platoon Sergeant. Prior to that assignment, I was on the .50cal, M240, M249, M82A1 and every other Infantry position one could imagine.

        As you’ve pointed out, each man will deal with these “demons” in his own way. Many people do not understand that there is no way to “turn it off” or simply run away. It takes months or even years before a man can begin to come to terms with the atrocities he has seen and been part of. Some men turn to the bottle and others to drugs but I have found the best way to “escape” is to spend every waking moment being the best person I can be.

        As I’m sure you are aware, many of our brethren will never have the opportunity to attend school, start a family or even enjoy a home cooked meal. For whatever reason, luck or divine intervention, you and I have those opportunities and it would be a shame to waste anymore of our precious time on earth consumed by hate. While the horrors of Iraq are likely the most difficult situations we have, or ever will, endure, they do not define us as men. I wish you the best and if I can help in any way, please do not hesitate to ask.

  2. Ross Caputi says:

    Thanks Jesse,
    I try to remind myself that what I was a part of in Iraq doesn’t define me. But I do believe that what we do about the atrocities that we committed will define us, so I’m trying to do all I can to fight for justice. I hope you comment on future posts.

  3. Jesse R. says:


    In response you your previous comment, I agree that what is done is done and like you, I try to use my experiences, good and bad, to enlighten those who have merely seen this war from the comfort of their living room. However, I think one area in which we differ is the manner in which we open people’s eyes. Please correct me if I am wrong, but it seems as if you seek justice for the damage already done. Please understand that I too would like to see justice served; however, I fear the damage done is irreparable. I therefore try to concentrate my efforts on preventing others from having to endure the horrors that you and I have seen first hand.

    With this in mind, I cannot help but notice the similarities between a 1941 article entitled, “American Century”, and the hogwash that we see on CNN today. In the article, Luce encouraged Americans to, “accept wholeheartedly our duty as the most powerful and vital nation in the world… to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit”.  This ludicrous notion that America must police the world by use of military might has gone on for far too long.  Without even taking into account the logistical and financial impracticality of it all, you and I can attest that the cost outweighs any reward ten fold.  It is our duty, not only as Americans but as humans, to live our lives in a respectable and peaceful manner… Not enforce our standards through the barrel of a gun.  

    I admire your drive to encourage peace and respect your courage to stand up for what you believe is right. Although we may differ in our methods to encourage peace, I take comfort in the fact that fellow veterans are using their experience to change the world for the better. 

    • Ross Caputi says:

      Dear Jesse,
      I’m a bit alarmed to hear that I come off as someone who is just focused on the past. Maybe I’ll have to be more careful to make the goals of my activism clear.

      Howard Zinn was one of the first people to inspire me to get involved in activism. Being a historian, he always emphasized the value that the past had for informing our decisions in the future. I consider myself to be equally dedicated to preventing future atrocities as I am to attaining justice for past atrocities. I want to make my experiences in Fallujah known to as many people as possible, because I hope it will prevent young kids from enlisting and participating in unjust wars.

      I’m in a unique position in that (to my knowledge) I’m the only participant in Operation Phantom Fury, A.K.A. the 2nd siege of Fallujah, who is willing to speak out about it. So I feel obligated to focus my efforts on Fallujah, because I have a unique voice to offer to their struggle. However, I’m always thinking about how Fallujah’s particular struggle for justice can help advance other struggles for peace and justice. Like Che Guevara said, “Hasta la victoria siempre!” (ever onward to victory)

      • JR says:


        After re-reading my last comment, I feel compelled to apologize for my accusatory tone. Please, I beg of you, do not think that I consider you to be fixated on the past. Perhaps I am the one who needs to pay closer attention to my tone. I merely meant to illustrate that a two pronged approach is vital to educating the general public about war. On one side, it is imperative to open peoples eyes to the ACTUAL situation in Iraq/Afghanistan, as you have done so well. People will not fully understand the dangers of “military intervention” unless they are fully aware of the horrors that it entails. On the other side, it is equally important to highlight the realities of what future interventions may look like. “News” networks like CNN and Fox are incapable (or unwilling) to show the full story and it will be up to people like you and I to warn them of the potential dangers ahead.

        Again, please understand that I have the utmost admiration for you and by no means meant to discount your efforts.

        • Ross Caputi says:

          Don’t worry, Jesse. It was an honest miscommunication on both our parts. And I think we both agree that being educated about the past and having a vision for a peaceful future are both essential to affecting positive change. And I agree further that mainstream media networks, like Fox and CNN, are particularly guilty of misinforming public about the past and present.

  4. Tom Zajc says:

    Although I cannot even imagine the horror of witnessing the horrors of Iraq, and may never experience anything as gut-wrenching, I would love for nothing more than for preventing future harm to everyone who has been involved: veterans, citizens and countries alike. And yes it is our duty as human beings to live our lives through a peaceful manner, we are one of the world’s many countries, not its police force. The costs of war has not only stretched our national budget, it has also lead to a great distrust between the citizens and the government, and their portrayal by many as two separate entities is a source of moral damage. The United States was meant to be run by a body of people, people who would not be policed around by a country overseas, but this is the very thing of which we have become.

    And I must say, I am pleased to see that those leading the quest to inform citizens about the horror and damage of war are those who have seen it with their own eyes, Ross and Jesse, you both possess insight that someone like myself, can never achieve. It is your experiences, which again I cannot imagine, that will make improve the people’s notion of how the United States should assert its place in the world. I thank you both, not only for your service, but for also for fighting to expose the truth: what we have done as a country, and how we should maintain a climate of peace and respect for other people’s ways of life.

    • Ross Caputi says:

      Dear Tom,
      Thanks for your kind comment, and I agree with you that veterans have a special voice and can make a special contribution to the struggle for peace and justice. But I fear that sometimes some people may feel that veterans are the only ones ENTITLED to speak out against wars. I’ve met many people who never joined the military and, for that reason, felt too intimidated to speak out against war, even though they knew in their guts that it was wrong. I think most of this fear comes from a common criticism, made by veterans and civilians, that goes something like: “Well, you weren’t there. You haven’t seen it. So what do you know?”

      However, some of the least informed and most confused people about war that I have ever met have been veterans, while some of the best informed and most articulate anti-war activists I have ever met never spent a day in uniform.

      In my opinion, one of the most important things that veterans can do is to fight against all the support-the-troops propaganda and the culture of hero worship around veterans. I think these cultural factors are big reasons why many people are too intimidated to speak out against war, and nobody can change this more effectively than veterans.

  5. Ross Caputi says:

    New scientific research has come out linking the current public health crisis in Fallujah to war munitions used in Fallujah. Some experts have called this one of the worst public health crisis ever studied. Please read and share:

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