Larry Nicholas is a Navy Corpsman and an Iraq War veteran who fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004. He has written an amazing post in Tom Ricks’ Best Defense blog about Sailors and Marines returning from combat:
The year was 2004. Our unit had been tasked with taking back the city of Fallujah from insurgents. We attacked the city, and after weeks of savage combat we succeeded. Several of our brothers were killed, many more severely injured, but in the end we accomplished our mission. We stayed in Iraq a little while longer, after which we went back to our duty station. Upon our return though, we were grasped by a surreal regard.
Everything around us was the same, except for the way people looked at us. They looked at us like we were superhuman. Everywhere we walked people would move out of our way, like Moses parting the Red Sea.
The Corporal was especially well regarded. He had a right to be. While I was proud of my part in the battle, it was nothing compared to what he had done. The tales that were told about his heroism were unbelievable, unimaginable, but they were true.
Shortly after coming back the Corporal started to have problems. He had taken to alcohol too readily, often becoming very drunk. During the Marine Corps Ball he was walking around his dress blues sloppily incoherent, intoxicated out of his mind. Seeing him like that was devastating. I felt as if I was watching him being slowly reduced to ash. I tried to talk to him for a little bit, hoping some sense would come though. He only said this to me, “I wish I was still the man I was in Fallujah.” I feared that the Corporal was becoming lost in his own anguish.
It is a sad story. Vets have to look after each other.