I REMEMBER attending church with my family on Veteran's Day every year. I felt immense and gleaming pride when the congregation would applaud my father.
I remember September 11th. The entire build up to the war felt to me like a pissed off street brawler looking for someone to punch, no matter who it was. I remember as a Marine, we were trained "Not to ask why, but to do and die." Nevertheless, even my young 21-year-old mind smelled bullshit from the beginning.
I remember bringing shoes, candy and soccer balls to some local children.
I remember their huge smiles because now they had an actual ball to kick instead of an empty plastic water bottle.
I remember the lump in my throat when I confirmed grid coordinates for a fire mission to air assets knowing it would end some of the lives of those same children.
I remember what I will never forget: the first time I heard a round hit someone. Not the report of the rifle, but the surprisingly loud snap of a bullet ripping through flesh and breaking bone.
I remember thinking just get through this patrol, this week, this month . . . just get home. Just get your men back to their families.
I remember wondering how in the hell I would ever explain a day in Iraq to anyone. Any little sound at night sends chills up and down my spine. I haven't touched a firearm since leaving the service, yet I still instinctively grab for one at night when nightmares wake me. My family asks me to get therapy. But the guilt I feel for my fallen friends is the only part of them I have left. The guilt of returning home when my friends didn't is only made worse by attempting to rid myself of that same guilt.
NAME: Patrick "Rock Star" Cochrun
WAR: Iraq 2003-2004
PLATOON/BATTALION: 1st Marine Division
AGE AT ENLISTMENT: 18
SERVICE LENGTH: 8 years