On Handling Dead Bodies… and #PTSD

No shit there I was, a freshly minted Executive Officer for an Infantry Company.  I had reached the big time.

Iraq, since the national Army evaporated leaving behind piles of unguarded ammunition and weapons, was the wild west.

We rode fast with our doors off.  IED?  What the f*ck is an IED?

The rules of engagement were just starting to get attention.  We were pretty much weapons free for anything, and I mean anything, that looked like a threat or suspicious.

Hearts and Minds? Not at this point.  We were still waiting for the Iraqi people to rush the streets and throw flowers at us…

Where was I?  Oh yeah, my big time job.  X to the mother f-ing O.

“Hey Sir, Red platoon just engaged to suspicious characters.  They had weapons and started to run.  Two KIA. Battalion wants us to pick them up.”

“XO.” My commander boomed.  “B-team.” He shouted.  The code word for a crappy mission.

Yep. The big time.

I actually had to hear the first part a second time because I was made awake from a heavy sleep by the midnight to five shift Radio Telephone Operator (RTO).


“We need you to take the 5-ton truck and pick up the bodies.”

Always bring bags

I have retold this story to my therapist hundreds of times.   In my Imaginal Exposure, this was one of my events.  For the sake of time, I will abbreviate.

I grabbed a medic another Soldier from the HQ Platoon and we drove out to the bodies with an escort section of Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

No moon, no up-armor, just night vision and the hum of Armored vehicles.

The first KIA was a little ways up the road.  He had bullet holes from head to toe and was in a large pool of thick red blood.

(Did I mention we didn’t have body bags?  Oh yeah, that.  We ran out a few months back and were forced to use tarps…)

The few ground troops got with the HQ guy, wrapped up the first KIA, and put him on the back of the truck.

The second KIA was a little farther up the road.  He was a big man.  Had to be two hundred and fifty pounds.  He was hunched over and also lying in his own pool of blood.

[Quick Aside]

Under the laws of the Geneva convention (I am paraphrasing here) , once you engage an enemy and they are wounded and you take their weapon, they are now an enemy combatant and subject to medical treatment and POW status.  You own them.

Back to business

We roll the giant man over to get him ready to put on the tarp only instead of being dead, he starts screaming, moaning and gurgling.

Like many times in combat, the initial report was wrong.

He was not going to live.  One third of his head was missing.  The horror is of this realism of war is still with me to this day.

I wanted nothing more than to finish him.  It would be easy, just cap him.

So there I was, new XO, with everyone looking at me.

What did I do?

I turned to the medic and said, “I don’t care if you have to scoop his brains back in his head.  Put a bandage on him; we are taking him the to the aid station.”

I was the beginning of a very long day.

Marines and Urine

If you have seen the news today, you probably saw the outrageous and despicable conduct of Marines urinating on the dead bodies of Afghan insurgents.

This whole scenario makes me sick.  The story above was my first encounter with the dead, but it was certainly not my last.  I have to think hard to remember all of my encounters handling bodies.  I lost track.  At one point that very five ton was nicknamed “The Hearse”.  Think about that for a second…

Deceased insurgents, civilians, and a fellow Soldier all came under my guidance at one point or another.

Many still stop in from time to time.

I have been enraged at the loss of a comrade.  On one raid we discovered a cache of beheading propaganda videos and the knife used to execute a civilian.  It made my blood boil that these men were terrorizing the local population.

But, we were the role models to the population.  The shining beacons on the moral high ground.  This behavior is beneath us.  They dealt in terror.  We dealt in justice.

This is a sad day for our Armed Forces.  There is no good reason for any of this.  The damage these Marines have caused is great and will shake out over the coming weeks, months, and even years.  I hope they all receive the sternest discipline available.

We all know how high the stakes are in combat.  This is a failure in leadership and should be dealt with swiftly and strongly.

2 thoughts on “On Handling Dead Bodies… and #PTSD

  1. Anonymous

    Donny, I get why. I dont condone it, but I get it. The sh!t storm that is brewing now, from one stupid act, is so not worth it.

    I’m guessing they had a rough stint. It was near the later half of the deployment, and these may have been the only enemy they ever saw. I know my completely changed after I lost a Soldier to the enemy.

    Rage is the closest word, but it doesn’t completely fit.

    I am still proud of the Marines, and you. Just not this one little group.

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