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Post-traumatic stress disorder is an ailment resulting from exposure to an experience involving direct or indirect threat of serious injury or death. Symptoms include recurrent thoughts of a traumatic event, reduced involvement in work or outside interests, hyper alertness, anxiety and irritability.

About 317,000 veterans diagnosed with the disorder from all wars were treated at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers and clinics in fiscal year 2005. And there are many more to come...

This photo of an ordinary soldier, dubbed the ‘Marlboro Man’ by the media during the battle for Fallujah, became a symbol of the Iraq conflict when it ran in newspapers across America in 2004. Now this soldier has returned home to Kentucky, where he battles the demons of post-traumatic stress on a daily basis. This is his story.

Marlboro Man of Fallujah

The Marlboro Man
Ode to Fallujah

by Gary Jacobson © February 2006

Ode to the Marlboro man, Hallelujah!
Come from the battle for Fallujah
But he never really left Iraq
His granite stare still picturing the attack
Still lying fresh in tarnation’s mind
Memories of demons wielding guns unkind
Of a purpose to dissipate mankind
His weary eyes chronicle the hurt
Captured behind a mask of blood and dirt
Steely eyes so cold on high alert.

The Marlboro man was just a naive eighteen
When he went to war lean-and-mean
A born-to-raise-hell fighting machine
Come to do his honorable duty
Well trained in war weapons proficiency
Yet naively gung-ho, he'd not faced war’s grim reality
For he’d not yet killed a man
He'd not yet seen before his smoking gun...
Humanity dirty and bloody in the sand
Nor felt the pain of a brother in this world of harms
Dying a bloody and filthy death in his weary arms.

What horrors this young boy already has seen
Hell of a long way from gung-ho to deadened serene
Inspired by recruiters promising college, insurance, money
Filling his head with crocks of flimflammery boloney
See the world, live the life exciting
“Damn, boy, that's utterly, unequivocally, amazing
You can have all this in the palm of your hands
Think of the parades ... the girls ... the bands
Skills ... education ... the girls ... the free steel-hat...
Think of the glory when you come home ... the cheers
Just for giving us a few paltry years.”
Oh yeah ... did I mention the girls?

The diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder
Embedded in his soul a warrior’s feral hunger
Fingers yet twitching on invisible triggers
Recurring memories of surviving a series of cliffhangers.
Vacant eyes narrate his story in prose rudely curt
Shell shocked lips tight as a braided rawhide quirt
Trembling he has trouble sleeping
Afraid of ghosts of men he killed in the night come creeping
Remembering days he doesn’t care to remember
Smelling of death, cordite, smoke and ember.
He's quieter now ... but easier to anger.

He can't look at fireworks without growing anxiety
Remembering fire raining down on a city
Turning to fight at the sound of a backfire
Dreaming dreams of eternal hellfire
Remembering his tour of hell in the Arabian pit
He will never forget!
Remembering times of candy and laughter
With Iraqi children in some desert backwater.
Remember them running to see American troops?
Then his beleaguered head droops.

At first, Iraq didn't seem all that bad
Watching for white pickups full of insurgents mad
Planting bombs ... firing mortars ... terrorizing.
Still, he felt like he was helping
He'd come to war full of piss and vinegar
Sure that no one his ardor could hinder.
Then in a sandstorm they assaulted Fallujah
Going where American forces had not in months gone
Words cannot describe the feeling to the spirit drawn
To dwell in the heart of an enemies belligerency
Fallujah, the capital of the Iraqi insurgency.

No one’s prepared for that feeling Gods of war endow
Butterflies big as Bradley fighting machines in his stomach right now
Only one who has been there can ever really know
What mere words can never bestow
Like seeing his best friend, Demarkus Brown
No matter how bad it was Demarkus could dissolve any frown
With a perpetual smile on his face turning scowls upside down
Brother Brown loved music ... loved raves
Bluegrass on bass and guitar interweaves
Close friends brought together by war ... brotherhood achieves.

Now they were together outside Fallujah.
Under fire the moment you stepped into a battle zone
Men crowded around, but you feel all alone
Watching silently as warplanes hammer the city
Knowing innocents fall within city walls, what a pity
High explosives burn white phosphorus strangely pretty
Deadly smart bombs ... pinpoint pounding by artillery
His radio guides tanks to his position come
Their rolling thunder his body benumb
Buildings collapse under firepower’s mighty thumb
Forty rebel bodies found in the rubble succumb.

I wonder how much more death this day I'll see
War’s moments, like still film frames fill me
My nose bleeding from pungent odors rank
Ears bled from thunders sound of the tank
I remember the day my column barely survived an ambush
Escaping through a door as bullets paint the wall with the devil’s brush
Remember the cat residing in a dead Iraqi chest cavity
Consuming it from within, in war’s shameless depravity?
Remember the day Demarkus Brown was killed in the insanity?

Then, I didn't have the heart to cry
Because someone somewhere in the cruel war did die
I just had to go on with the daily chore of war
Raise your rifle, peer through the scope
Squeeze the trigger launching bullets at targets without hope
Not at a distant white truck ... at another human being.
It's one thing to be shot at, and reacting
Shoot a couple rounds back ... try to suppress the fire
But there's a human at the other end of trajectory’s invisible wire
Shooting rounds at you ... shooting back with intent to kill guys
Through my scope, I can make out hatred in that guy's eyes.

Soldiers returning to America bring home the war, too.
"Wizards" ... military psychologists in military speak coo-coo
Briefings on PTSD to returning warriors imbue
Nobody pays much attention to a shrink creep
Even guys taking antidepressants to help them sleep
Didn't think much about long-term consequences
Of war that robbed them of humanities frail senses.
Still, a part of them wishes they could go back
To find the part of them so vilely wracked
Left back there in Iraq.

Back home ... look out your window ... see a body sprawled
A dead Iraqi lying on the sidewalk mauled
Become abruptly panicked by loud noise dissonance
Dropping suddenly into combat stance
Raising imaginary rifles to the source of discordance
Hitting the dirt when you hear rounds incoming
Doesn’t exactly win you many pals understanding
Petrified loved ones nervously perturbing
Yes, it’s a hard day for the grunt
Still lost over there in the hunt...

Who tightens a choking fist around his wife’s neck in the night
Nocturnal nightmares about Iraq legion from dark to light
Living memories torn by gory battle worn
Wondering about better ways for peace to be born
Remembering things that happened
Imagining things that had not happened
Guilty somber thoughts he should be dead assuage
Remember friends who bought it, in blood and carnage
But he did not die...
Still I wonder why?

Like when a passing sailor made a whistling sound
Sounding just like a rocket-propelled grenade inbound
I don't remember grabbing him.
I don't remember against the bulkhead pushing him.
I don't remember wrestling him down to the floor.
I don't remember getting on top of that loud-mouthed bore.
I don’t remember how I got a bloody fist.
I’m just lucky that sailor did not on pressing charges insist.
I don’t remember them pulling me off, ordered to cease and desist.
Because the man who left was easygoing ... quick to laugh
The man who came back is now quick to anger at the riffraff.

When I take a seat, it’s in a chair facing the door.
Quiet, with steely-hard eyes that ever searching bore
Men of faith keep asking the eternal question why?
How people can go to church as good Christians, they cry
Having killed people in Iraq?
Raised by the Ten Commandments that my poor soul rack
It's hard for soldiers to do war’s number one job ... to kill
When taught from childhood that loving Bible score
Thou shalt not kill! Still...
Godly values deeply embedded in their moral store.

But you go over there, and you've got to survive
You've got to do it ... got to stay alive
Traveling down that long and weary road of fears
Some veterans won’t heal from for many years
Bottling it up, becoming angry, crying rivers of tears
Holding still scary thoughts of death inside incubating
Fermenting his very will desecrating
Memories fomenting
Still amazed he still stands alive...
After all deep to the bone misery he did to survive.

Dealing with all he’s seen ... all he's done
Deeds hellishly hard under the Iraqi sun
When death was all around in gloried patriotism
Bloodshed and violence in continual absurdism.
It's not just a job, it's an adventure ... right?
The Marlboro Man fights not to go back to this fight
Nor will he let any kid of his enlist
To spill his precious blood with the fundamentalist.

I wonder about generals careworn
My brother’s souls baseborn
The living and dead from this life shorn
By heroes of the sword born.
I think of men I saw through rifle scope
Whom I did not give any vestige of hope
I wonder: Were they terrorists fighting against America?
The answer known only to a small group esoterica
Or did they simply fight to protect their homes
Like me, caught up in haunting war’s grisly syndromes?

American dove Vietnam Poems index,
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VIETNAM PICTURE TOUR from the lens of a combat infantryman
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