On March 18, 2003, I watched an immense full moon rise over the Kuwaiti desert while I waited for the war with Iraq to begin. We had been in the barren desert for more than a month at this point, having moved out of the overcrowded staging camps in mid-February. Here, there was no entertainment. No phone calls home. Virtually no mail. No freshly cooked food. No showers. No vegetation. No shelter from the desert wind and sun during the day. At night, I was sleeping in what was supposed to be a backpacking tent.
The next afternoon, I would follow the division artillery out of our sparse camps as we moved all night into the initial attack positions. At 2100 on March 20, the 155mm howitzers began firing on Iraqi border positions and at 0700 the next morning I crossed the border with the initial wave of US forces. Artillerymen need to do three things well: shoot, move and communicate. For the next few weeks, that’s all we did as the division fought its way from the border to Baghdad.
On the night of March 18th, however, I could only anticipate what the next day would bring with deep uncertainty.
As the moon rose over the desolate landscape that night, I remembered a scene in the movie Joe Versus the Volcano. Joe, suffering from depression and what he believed to be an incurable disease, had experienced yet another disaster. The ship on which he was sailing sank in a storm, and Joe survived by turning his floating luggage into a makeshift raft. One night, starving and without water, Joe looked in awe at a gigantic full moon rising over the empty sea. In amazement, he gathered his strength, stood to face the rising moon and prayed, “Dear God, whose name I do not know – thank you for my life.”
On that night, I watched the moon slowly rise and I was deeply moved. The dictionary defines “awe” as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder,” and that does a pretty good job of describing what I felt with every fiber of my being. After a time I prayed aloud in the darkness, “Dear God, whose name I DO know – thank you for my life.” And I thanked him that he had made himself known.
On this tenth anniversary of the Iraq war, that’s the only war story I care to tell.