James' mother Leeanne brought me this photo from an AP article quoting him as saying:
"As long as we clean up our mess and get this country back up on its feet, it's worth it," said Lance Cpl. James Whelan of Kalamazoo, Mich. Just 20, he is on his third tour in Iraq."
This caption came with the picture: "Lance Cpl. Jeff Bartlett, a team leader with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and Lance Cpl. James Whelan, a rifleman, show two members of the Iraqi Security Force the proceedures for patrolling. Photo by: Cpl. Randy L. Bernard. Date the Photo was taken:12/10/2004. This Image has been cleared for release."
James is the one in the middle. I'm grateful when he comes by to visit his aged teacher along with Jef (author of "Zombie Panic Room", free plug) and the others. Our DVD player was a Christmas gift from them and there are no awards I'm prouder of. James loves zombie movies, the gorier the better and Italian horror flicks like Argento's. He prefers coffeehouses to bars. He is quiet, laughs easily, is anything but a "gung-ho" asshole, and his eyes under the dark glasses resemble the medieval angels at the cathedral of Rheims-- so girls seem to Like James A Lot. We have no direct knowledge of this because of his gentlemanly discretion.
James is one of those kids who joined up in the weeks after September 11, with the understanding that we were under attack and they were going to hunt down Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Instead he was sent to Iraq, walking from Kuwait towards Baghdad. His second tour was in Fallujah. The shotgun, I am told, is used in combination with bolt cutters for going through locked doors. This is James' third tour of combat duty in Iraq, though the last time he visited he was too young for us to take him to a strip club that serves liquor.
I have never been a pacifist, and have no illusions about the power of non-violence or sweet reason when people are trying to kill you. James knows that I have been and am against this invasion of Iraq, and see it as a ghastly strategic mistake in the war against terrorists. But I also tried to assure him (in my fatuous, safe at home way) that he is to come home alive, no matter what he has to do to make sure of that. Remember Richard Pryor saying he would never be trapped by a crowd in a burning theatre, because if he had to, he would eat through the asshole of every motherfucker in his way. Be standing safe on the sidewalk wiping your mouth while the firemen scratch their heads at all those people with their assholes eaten out.
I don't like feeling the need to give cruel blessings to good young men being sent into a bad situation, like that hideous professor in "All Quiet on the Western Front". Goddamn any man who wastes young men like this, no matter what ideology he thinks he serves. There aren't enough hells for the True Believers on both sides who have brought James' family to this moment.