Vet in a Suit
Testimony from the Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Jon Turner, a former Marine and current resident of Burlington, Vt., looks like he'd be more comfortable playing footbag or Frisbee than firing a weapon. On Friday afternoon, he'd given some of the more dramatic testimony. He opened by saying, "There is a term, 'Once a Marine, always a Marine.' But there is also a term, 'Eat the apple, F the corps.' " He then ripped off the ribbons pinned to his shirt, threw them to the ground, and declared, "I don't work for you no more." He had served two tours in Iraq with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion of the 8th Marines, operating in Ramadi and Fallujah. He then played a few videos he'd made while in Iraq. The first video he played was of his executive officer, after having called in a 500-pound bomb, saying, "I think I just killed half the population of northern Ramadi. Fuck the red tape."
Then he played video of a missile attack on a Ministry of Health building. He spoke about the standard procedure of a "weapon drop": When mistakes are made, you drop a weapon on the innocent dead man so it appears he was a combatant. He showed photos of a man's brain. "This wasn't my kill, it was my friend's," he stated.
When the next image of a corpse appeared on the big screens in the hall, he continued, "On April 18, 2006, I had my first confirmed kill. Ahh. This man was innocent. I don't know his name. I call him the Fat Man. He was walking back to his house, and I shot him in front of his friend and father. The first round didn't kill him after I hit him up here in his neck area. And afterward he started screaming and looked right into my eyes. So I looked at my friend who I was on post with and said, 'Well, can't let that happen.' So I took another shot and took him out." It took seven members of the Fat Man's family to move his body.
After his first kill, Turner says, "My company commander personally congratulated me as he did everyone else in our company. This is the same individual who had stated that whoever gets their first kill by stabbing them to death will get a four-day pass when we return from Iraq."
On Saturday, Turner and I sat outside on a bench. Some of his buddies were playing Frisbee nearby and a mutt dog named Resistance ran around on the grass, yapping among the former soldiers. Jon had a number of tattoos, nothing new for a military guy, but the ones that most interested me were the five small crosses on his left wrist, for the five KIAs of Kilo Company, and the Arabic script on his right wrist, which, he claimed, meant "fuck you." He had this on his right wrist because, as he said during his testimony, it was his "choking wrist." He left us all to imagine what that meant.
Jon has shaggy blond hair and a scraggly beard and a comely, easy smile. In him, I saw the ghost of a young, sweet kid who had joined the corps because he loved his country and he wanted to help protect it. And I saw the hardened and haunted young man who spends a lot of time chasing demons he thought he'd left in Iraq, among them the Fat Man and a man who had the unfortunate luck of bicycling by Jon's checkpoint on a day when Jon simply wanted to kill and the media embed was with another platoon, so his platoon had free rein.
Jon has PTSD. Jon has quit drinking and smoking. He still dips tobacco, but that's a minor thing, considering. He doesn't do therapy—got tired of that—but he talks to his friends from IVAW, better therapy than anything. He's started making art, and with a buddy in Burlington he makes combat paper—he reconstitutes camouflage uniforms Marines have worn in combat, turning the uniforms into paper that he binds into books. He's writing some poetry. He's trying to make something good from the waste that was Iraq.