John Crawford,
The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell:
An Accidental Soldier's Account
of the War in Iraq

(Riverhead, 2005)

"Son, of all the things I wanted for you, a combat infantry badge was the last. It is also what I am most proud of you for."

This (as with other Iraq war journals) is impossible to read without your own personal prejudices, so I will lay mine out upfront. I didn't endorse the war back in 2002, but I do believe in supporting our troops and now (in 2006) in finishing what we started. In more cold-hearted moments, I have railed against the reservists who whined about going to war -- weren't they getting good money and tuition reimbursement for their "one weekend a month and two weeks a year?" Didn't they know they owed Uncle Sam for these major perks when push came to shove?

So when John Crawford's memoir was billed as the story of a man who was "one semester short of graduating and newly married" when his National Guard unit was called up, I was less than overwhelmed with sympathy. Getting into the nitty gritty, however, I not only felt for Crawford and his young wife, but I got frustrated with the military machine that kept our reservist troops in Iraq for more than a year, long past their effective service.

Crawford earned his stripes as a full-timer in the Army's 101st Airborne Division, and when he was called up with the Guard, his term was renewed again and again and again. Full-time troops rotated out while Crawford's unit was attached to the Third Infantry Division, then to the 108th Airborne, then the First Marine Expeditionary, the 101st Airborne and finally the Armored Division. Was this because his commander wanted some neat-o battle stripes? Did that commander ever hang out in the dirt, or did he just visit occasionally from his air-conditioned base?

The memoir is a series of stories about the war -- about the inner politics of the Army, about a birthday celebrated with hoarded MRE oatmeal cookie bars, about treasured letters from home, about crippling stomach flu, about watching the sun rise on the dawn of civilization at the Tigris River and the pursuit of the simple pleasures of Coca-Cola. Oh yes, and about blood and brains on your clothes.

The chapter that will stay with me forever is "Whalee's Shop," about a gas station owner named Whalee, a man who chatted with duty soldiers. Soldiers enjoyed his air conditioner and ice-cold Pepsis while he chatted about Iraqi history. He was a true friend to Crawford and company and the chapter is heartwarming, but the epilogue to the tale is that he later had a run-in with some less understanding American soldiers.

I highly recommend these first-person essays about Iraq. Crawford has no agenda. He is a man, a student, a husband and a soldier. He experienced things in Iraq that need to be told.

by Jessica Lux-Baumann
10 June 2006

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