Veterans Day seems pointless, just a bunch of old vets telling war stories. There is no Hallmark set of instructions to hint to a gift you might submit to your favorite war hero. It’s partly a recycled holiday due to another, Armistice Day, rendered obsolete by time. But to this veteran it has a point. Veteran’s Day is years of pride and pain softened to a plea.
On Feb. 24, 1991, a truck filled with a dozen marines making a steady beeline for Kuwait City stopped the convoy when I yelled, “Hey look a body!” The paralyzed figure of an Iraqi soldier lay 50 feet from the incinerated jeep he was blown from. His knees were bent, eyes and mouth open, and his intestines poured out from under his shirt. Both he and I were covered with specks of oil from the fires nearby, and soaked by the rains that made me miserable, yet washed his face clean. Before he died he must have waved his arms, like the way kids make snow angels. He made wings in the sand. My angel in the desert.
I never forgot him, or the grimaced faces of the live ones missing arms and legs, or the piles of dead ones at the Highway of Death. So two years ago I began a welding a sculpture of that angel. I began with an old uniform, fiberglass resin, and plenty of plaster to make molds. I lined the molds with 70,000 ball bearings and welded them together. It weighs roughly 300 lbs, and comes in two pieces, much like I found him.
On Nov. 11th, Veterans Day 2007, I will haul my sculpture to the beach in Santa Monica, California, lay him down, and draw wings around his arms. I will tell the story to whoever asks, because now it is just a story, fully mourned and forgiven. I will share a plea with everyone to end the war in Iraq and tend to the victims with our time and money. A donation jar will collect funds for the Mehadi Foundation to send U.S. veterans to counseling retreats, and to help organizations in Iraq provide all-terrain wheelchairs for Iraqis. My plea is for you to think of something good to do, then do it.
Marcus Eriksen is the author of My River Home: A Journey from the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico. You can read his article about soldiers speaking out against the war here.