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In the real war, glory absent

Iwas eager to see The Hurt Locker since it is one of the first movies about my war.

I found it very interesting. I saw a lot of reality there. I have seen and dealt with, to a limited extent, the addiction to adrenaline. I do not know of anyone who loved it more than their wife and child, but I do know that it can be extremely addictive. Jumping out of an airplane affords great odds of survival. Combat or disarming a bomb does not afford such great odds. Your body will react similarly but with more intensity. When this occurs daily or more than once daily your body craves it like a drug addict craves a drug. I found the movie entertaining, but given my experience, I imagine it was scary to me on a different level than most.

War movies in general are great for what they are: entertainment. I grew up in the 1980s and saw almost all of the good war movies of that time. I was in the theater for Full Metal Jacket and have a copy of Platoon at home. I own The Boys in Company C, Kelly's Heroes, Sands of Iwo Jima and a few others. Like I said, they are good entertainment. But of course there is a darker side.

These movies glorify a situation that has no real glory in it. Turn to one of your relatives or friends who has been in combat and ask them what they think of war. I am sure that they will tell you that it is scary, gruesome and requires extreme intestinal fortitude. There are no Sgt. Strykers or Gunny Highways in the real Corps. We don't have a director who can step in when all hell is breaking loose and yell, "Cut!"

When I got to Iraq, I soon learned that it was not the movies. In my first few weeks we drove over an IED. We caught the guys as they were driving away by riddling their car with bullets from machine guns and few M-16s. The driver was struck twice and the passenger was not shot but I think he was having a heart attack when we got over to them.

A few days later on a foot patrol I spotted a blue blinking light in the road and walked up to it. It was a phone taped to a canister. While running for my life the thing exploded. I was not injured but was very shaken up.

We went to Fallujah in April 2004. Our company saw two to three firefights a day. It was the first time I saw one of my friends get shot. In one month we took light casualties (thankfully, no dead Marines). We then went to Zaidon and a handful of Marines received serious wounds. Our radio man lost his foot; one of our riflemen lost his arm. Thankfully, no dead Marines. After that it was back to Mahmudiya: On the second day there we drove over an IED. The only casualty was our Marine "Big Country" getting a concussion.

Later in the deployment my Humvee was hit by a large IED. I had my forehead crushed in, lost both eyes, had to have my right hand fully reconstructed and took severe damage to my left knee. One buddy lost a foot; one of the others took shrapnel to the forehead but lived; one took superficial shrapnel wounds to the arm and one of my best friends died.

On a later deployment to Iraq that I did not go on, I lost three more friends to IEDs.

The Hurt Locker and all the other movies I mentioned, whether they are good or bad as entertainment, are still war movies and war movies glorify acts of violence. How do you feel about that? Would you bring your children out to the battlefield to witness it live and in person? There is no happy ending. Kelly does not get the gold, Stryker does not make it to the top of Mount Suribachi and 8-Ball gets cut down by a sniper. Please remember that when you watch a war movie you are watching stories about young Americans who went far from home and risked their lives; some of them died there with only their brothers in arms to witness. Hollywood is now taking our money by walking on their graves.

Maybe that's extreme. Of course I understand why people watch war movies. I watch them, too. But I have seen my friends die and most of the movies just bring up very painful memories.

The Hurt Locker and movies like it are entertainment. As young warriors, we do not make the choice to go to war. That happens at a level way above our pay grade. We do not love or hate war any more than the next guy. My views come from being a person who experienced a "live screening" to the most exciting war movie you can imagine. It was an interactive film starring me and my friends. I watch it often, sometimes with excitement and fond memories of the camaraderie I had, and at other times with much hurt in my heart for my friends who either gave their lives or have had them shattered because we were cast in an on-location blockbuster where no director had to yell, "Action." The action was all too real.

Michael Jernigan served as a corporal in 2004 with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment in Mahmudiya, Zaidon and Fallujah, where he was severely injured and blinded by a roadside bomb. He was medically retired from the Marine Corps in December 2005. Jernigan, who graduated from St. Petersburg High School in 1997, has moved back to his hometown, where he lives with his wife and attends USF St. Petersburg. He contributes to the New York Times' Home Fires blog at nytimes.com/homefires, where an earlier version of this essay appeared. It is reprinted with his permission.

In the real war, glory absent 03/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 6, 2010 3:30am]
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