Celebrated to Death: Memorial Day Is Killing Us

tags: war on terror, Afghanistan War

Erik Edstrom is the author of the new book Un-American: A Soldier's Reckoning of Our Longest War (Bloomsbury). He is a graduate of West Point and the University of Oxford, was an infantry officer, Army Ranger, and Bronze Star Medal recipient who deployed to direct combat in Afghanistan.

Just before deploying to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in May, 2009, I bought a journal. It was brown, faux-leather, and fit in the hip pocket of Army combat trousers. It wasn't particularly nice -- just something you might pick up at Office Max.

Nonetheless, my soldiers ribbed me for it. "Dear diary," they snickered.

"No, no, this is a war journal," I would reply, imagining such a distinction as sufficiently manly to overcome whatever stigma they had when it came to this self-appointed diarist.

At first, journaling was a distraction. I captured images of my platoon, a lovable assemblage of misfits and Marlboro men. But soon, that journal acquired a more macabre tone, its lines filling with stories of roadside bombs, shootouts, amputated limbs, and funerals playing out in a page-by-page street fight of scribbles and scratch-outs.

On a humdrum route-clearance patrol on our fourth day in-country, before the unit of soldiers we were replacing even had a chance to depart, my squad leader’s vehicle was catastrophically destroyed by a roadside bomb. We loaded four broken, bloody, ketamine'd soldiers onto an Air MEDEVAC helicopter en route to urgent care at Kandahar Airfield. (At this rate, I realized, my platoon of 28 would be wiped out within a month.)

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