When they told us the mobile PX was coming to our base, we were thrilled. Most of us were running low in cigarettes and tobacco, and equally low on junk food. All I really wanted was some good potato chips more than anything. Now, finally, for the first time since we’d come to that base, we would be getting a chance to get some of these things. As it was, we relied on missions taking us to other bases and hopefully having some time to stop by their PX to pick up snacks and things. And that wasn’t going very well. Last time we’d done that, I’d gotten yelled at for chewing gum and wearing my helmet inside the PX (it was right inside the gate and we were on our way out). Apparently the Marine in there (not even a Marine in my opinion) was upset that we disrespected his store by wearing our “covers” inside. And chewing gun. And wearing radios, too. I highly doubt he’d ever been on a mission in his life. Even our platoon commander was angry at him (and at me for not telling him about it).
The mobile PX really wasn’t that impressive, though. It’s just a half-sized tractor trailer painted green, and filled with shelves of crap that most of us don’t need, but we really wanted. Some of the guys needed razor blades and new socks, but between care packages and a little decent planning, we were doing okay on that stuff. I just wanted chips.
As we were waiting in the stupid long line (ahead of all the other guys that never even left base), a handful of humvees pulled up and some filthy Marines piled out. They were from one of the infantry companies that spent nearly all their time on small combat outposts and in the city running patrols day and night. They were just lucky enough to be driving through base on the one day the PX was there. Knowing that any other day it could have been us, I let them all in front of me. They needed junk food, too, and probably more than we did.
Their squad leader, a really fun guy I’d known for awhile, stepped in line in front of me and said hello. Pedro was one of those guys that could shoot like a sniper, run like a marathoner, and fight like a beast, but he smiled the whole time doing it. He was just happy about things, and oddly happy about Iraq. It didn’t hurt that he’d just become a dad, either. Back in the states, his wife had just given birth to their first son, and he was looking forward to seeing him when we sailed in a couple of months. As Pedro stood in back of all his Marines (lowest ranks always go first), he told me, beaming, about his son, his gorgeous wife, and what sort of missions they’d been running in the city. Like us, they were busy, he said, but it wasn’t too bad. He sort of liked it. In fact, he was seriously considering reenlisting. He never stopped smiling the whole time we talked; nor did he even take off his helmet. They were truly just passing through on their way back out on another mission.
As he finally got inside and bought some stuff (mostly for his Marines still stuck at the outpost; not even for himself), I told him to be safe out there, and I’d stop and say hello now that I knew which outpost he was assigned to. Still grinning, he agreed; they all piled back into the humvees, and roared out.
A week later, during a night operation in the city, an IED buried in the road went off directly below Pedro’s humvee, killing him and two others. Before the debris had even fully landed, another Marine was on the radio calling in a medevac. The others were running to check for survivors, or to at least recover the bodies. Digging through the wreckage of the now-totally destroyed humvee, they couldn’t find Pedro anywhere. One guy was slightly alive, but he wasn’t going to make it and everybody knew it. Pedro, however, was nowhere to be found.
After frantically searching the ditches and the surrounding alleys and courtyards, they eventually started searching the buildings as well. Some distance away, on a flat roof, they found him, or what was left of him. Back on base, they didn’t tell anybody about the casualties for more than a day.
When a friend recounted this story to me, he never showed any emotion at all. After nearly eight years in the infantry, this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Nor, in his mind, would it be the last. And I still haven’t figured out where they buried Pedro.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw All Rights Reserved