Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families

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9781400065622: Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families
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“Here is what you will not find in the news–the personal cost of war written as clear and beautiful as literature worthy of the name is. These stories are the real thing, passionate, imaginative, searing.”
–Richard Bausch, author of Wives & Lovers

The first book of its kind, Operation Homecoming is the result of a major initiative launched by the National Endowment for the Arts to bring distinguished writers to military bases and inspire U.S. Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen and their families to record their wartime experiences. Encouraged by such authors as Tom Clancy, Mark Bowden, Bobbie Ann Mason, Tobias Wolff, Jeff Shaara, and Marilyn Nelson, American military personnel and their loved ones wrote candidly about what they saw, heard, and felt while in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as on the home front. Taken together, these almost one hundred never-before-published eyewitness accounts, private journals, short stories, letters, and other personal writings become a dramatic narrative that shows the human side of warfare.

· the fear and exhilaration of heading into battle;
· the interactions between U.S. forces and Afghans and Iraqis, both as enemies and friends;
· the boredom, gripes, and humorous incidents of day-to-day life on the front lines;
· the anxiety and heartache of worried spouses, parents, and other loved ones on the home front;
· the sheer brutality of warfare and the physical and emotional toll it takes on those who fight;
· the tearful homecomings for those who returned to the States alive– and the somber ceremonies for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.

From riveting combat accounts to profound reflections on warfare and the pride these troops feel for one another, Operation Homecoming offers an unflinching and intensely revealing look into the lives of extraordinary men and women. What they have written is without question some of the greatest wartime literature ever published.

“Andrew Carroll has given America a priceless treasure.”
–Tom Brokaw, on War Letters

Proceeds from this book will be used to provide arts and cultural programming to U.S. military communities. For more information, please go to www.OperationHomecoming.gov.

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About the Author:

Andrew Carroll is the editor of several critically acclaimed and nationally bestselling books, including Letters of a Nation, Behind the Lines, and War Letters, which was also a PBS documentary. Carroll is the founder of the Legacy Project (www.warletters.com), a national, all-volunteer effort to honor veterans and active-duty troops by seeking out and preserving their letters and e-mails. Carroll lives in Washington, D.C. He edited Operation Homecoming on a pro bono basis.
To schedule a speaking engagement, please contact American Program Bureau at www.apbspeakers.com  

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

CHAPTER ONE

And Now It Begins

heading into combat

I remember the golden globe in the vast courtyard between the two buildings and a spattering fountain next to cold stone benches. Inside, I would look up in awe at the cathedral-like glass, the suspended walkways, and the grand, vaulted ceilings rising ten stories, crowned with a diadem of crystal chandeliers. I remember the large fabric hanging artwork. I can still smell the concourse level’s red carpets when they were new. I was eleven. I remember sitting on those red carpets, reading my schoolbooks, imagining I was in the city’s most elegant reading room.

Now, up there on floors so high no hook and ladder could ever reach, a man in a tattered and burned white business shirt stands in a broken window with flames licking at him and smoke billowing around him. I see someone let go, briefly flying. I read later hundreds did the same. Hundreds.

I remember spending many summer afternoons and twilights as a teenager sitting on top of the South Tower, sometimes reading poetry or a book, the raucous sound of the city muted and far below. I was listening only to the air passing by me, my mind wandering.

A second plane slams into the South Tower. The explosion sounds like thunder.

I remember closing my eyes outside in the open air up there and feeling the sun’s warmth on my face. No matter how hot it was on those city streets below, there were always cool breezes at more than a thousand feet up. The Tower would gently sway from the wind. It was unnerving at first, but after a while, I remember feeling comforted like a child being rocked back and forth. I wasn’t worried she’d tip over. Ever.

The president addresses the nation and the world. He says to us, the Armed Forces, “Be ready.”

I am.

— Forty-four-year-old Petty Officer First Class Gregory S. Cleghorne, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.

Antoinette

Personal Narrative

Captain William J. Toti

Just before 9:00 a.m., as word spread rapidly throughout the Pentagon, military and civilian personnel alike began huddling around television sets to watch breaking news about a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. “I am sitting at my desk when I hear someone yell, ‘Oh my God!’” forty-four-year- old Captain William J. Toti wrote in a detailed, present-tense account of what he was doing on September 11, 2001. Toti had enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age seventeen, while he was still in high school, and eventually became a career submariner. In 1997, he was given command of the nuclear fast-attack submarine USS Indianapolis, based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and named after the legendary World War II cruiser. On the morning of September 11, Toti was in the Pentagon, serving as the special assistant to the vice chief of naval operations. “I glance up at the television to see the World Trade Center on fire,” he continued in his narrative.

I walk into my outer office, turn up the volume, and hear the anchor theorize that the cause of impact is some sort of technological malfunction. We know immediately that there is no way navigational failure could cause an airliner to fly accidentally into a building on a bright clear day. By the time the second plane hits the Trade Center’s South Tower, we all realize this is a major terrorist attack.

What Toti and his colleagues did not know was that a third plane, American Airlines flight 77, was heading straight for them.

I quickly go back to my desk to call my wife, but nobody is there. I leave a voice message, telling her to take the kids out of school, stay home, and keep the telephone lines open.

As I hang up the phone and walk back to the outer office, I hear the sound of an approaching airplane, the whine of the engines growing louder and louder. And then impact—a massive earthquake-like jolt. There is screaming everywhere, and the halls immediately fill with dust and smoke. There is no time to think. I sprint down the hall behind two other Navy officers toward the point of impact.

My office is on the fourth floor of the E-ring, which is between the fifth and sixth corridors of the Pentagon. The plane has hit between the third and fourth corridors. We run through a brown haze that I learn weeks later was a combination of vaporized aviation fuel and particle asbestos that had been shaken loose from the ceiling. We pass through an area that recently had been abandoned for renovation and into a newly renovated, fully occupied area containing our operations center.

I finally reach the fissure—a gaping hole of sunlight where there should be building. The floor simply has dropped out, and parts of the airplane are visible, burning not fifty feet below us. It does not take us long to figure out that everybody on our floor who is still alive has evacuated, and that there is nothing we can do for anybody in the pit.

I run outside to the point of impact, and I encounter total devastation. Aircraft parts, most no larger than a sheet of paper, litter the field. I can make out, on one of the larger pieces of aluminum, a red A from american airlines. A column of black smoke rises into the air, bending toward the Potomac over the top of the building.

I start to wonder, Where is everybody? Thousands of people work in that building, there should be hundreds streaming out of the emergency exits right now. But at first I see no evacuees. Then as I round the corner of the heliport utility building, I notice a very small number of walking wounded, and then, on the ground before me, one gravely injured man. He is a Pentagon maintenance worker who is burned so badly that I can’t tell whether he is white or black. Amazingly, he is still conscious. An Army officer is kneeling beside him, and since we are just a few feet from the still-burning building, the soldier says, “Let’s get him out of here.” A few more military men gather, and we carry him away from the building to the edge of Route 27, where the first ambulance has just pulled up.

As the EMTs tend to him, I look back down toward the building and see an open emergency exit, thick black smoke billowing out. There’s some sort of movement inside the doorway, and it appears as if someone has fallen, so I run back down the hill and into the building.

Just a few feet inside I almost stumble over a lady crawling toward the door. She can’t stand up, and I try to lift her, but I’m having trouble because sheets of her skin are coming off in my hands. I call for help, and two Army officers respond immediately. Then, as we hear— and feel—a series of secondary explosions just a few yards away, the three of us half-carry, half-drag the woman to the top of the hill, where we place her by the maintenance worker as a second ambulance arrives.

Third-degree burns cover her. But she is conscious and lucid, and a man with a blue traffic vest proclaiming pentagon physician stops to examine her. So I leave, confident that she is in good hands, and run back down the hill to help evacuate another of the wounded.

When we attempt to lift a badly burned man, he screams out, “Let go! Don’t touch me!” Just then we hear more explosions coming from the fissure which we fear are bombs (but later learn are the airliner’s oxygen tanks cooking off), so we carry this man out of there with him screaming the whole way.

When we arrive at the top of the hill with the second man, I notice that the woman we had just carried up the hill is becoming agitated, saying, “I can’t breathe.” I call over to an EMT, “Do you have any oxygen?” He runs to the back of his rig, pulls out a bottle, and puts it on her. As the flow begins and she starts to calm down, she looks at me like she wants to say something. I kneel down beside her and say, “Is that better, are you all right?”

And then comes the moment I’ll never forget. She blinks and asks, “Doctor, am I going to die?” Wham. Just like that. That is a question that I never imagined myself having to answer. I look around our little triage area on the side of the road—

The first injured man I had come across is no longer conscious and is doing poorly.

Another young lady is standing nearby with severely burned hands, screaming hysterically.

A soldier is trying to chase down a fire truck that has become lost in the maze of roads surrounding the Pentagon.

Other officers are attending to the walking wounded, and someone is pouring water from a five-gallon cooler bottle onto people as they exit the building to extinguish the small fires on their clothing.

—And here lies this woman, with no one to attend to her but me. What should I say? Should I tell her I am not a doctor? But there are no answers to be found, so I lean over the lady and ask, “What’s your name?”

“Antoinette,” she says.

“No, Antoinette, you’re not going to die. We have a helicopter coming for you. I’m going to stay with you until you’re on it.”

She nods, and I feel relieved for having said this.

The medevac helicopter arrives a few minutes later. Since the Pentagon’s heliport is in the middle of the attack area, the helo has to land up the hill toward the Navy Annex, on the other side of Route 27. The trek up the hill is surprisingly long and difficult. When we finally get her to th...

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