I am happy to have a guest post from Larry O’Donnell, my brother-in-law. A retired federal agent — and my go-to resource for writing about weaponry and battle tactics (like how to rescue hostages atop a Mexican pyramid) — Larry has provided many a humorous guest post over the years I’ve been running this blog … and a few sobering ones as well.
Today’s post is in honor of Veteran’s Day, this Wednesday, November 11.
Veteran’s Dream … by Larry O’Donnell
Sometimes, I think of November 7 as I think of my birthday. It is an important day on my calendar. And because it’s four days from Veteran’s Day, I am a bit more thoughtful of the holiday. For those who don’t know me, I have been living on borrowed time since November 7, 2003. I beg the indulgence of those who know this story on behalf of those who don’t. There’s something I will reveal for the first time.
I was in Mosul, Iraq conducting “other duties, as assigned” for Homeland Security. I had completed training the fledgling Iraqi border services in northern Iraq. At 0800 that morning, I was sitting in a UH-60 helicopter and was strapping in for a two hour flight to Baghdad, via Tikrit. It was a routine mission, a flight of two Blackhawks was carrying me, another agent, the Judge Advocate General of the Army, and his entourage. The Iraqi insurrection was underway in earnest, having downed two US helicopters in the week preceding, and hundreds of IED attacks on Iraqi and American military and security forces.
The General exercised his prerogative to “bump” manifested passengers and had us removed from the aircraft. There was plenty of room but he had two of his staff moved over to ride in my helicopter and the crew chief apologetically said they would return for us around noon.
I was peeved by the delay but had to grin and bear it. Mumbling uncharitable things about lawyers, I grabbed my gear and walked off. Hours later I learned that “my” helicopter had been shot down, killing everyone on board.
On the whim of the Army JAG, I was spared and two of his staff were not.
The bright spot of this event was that I had a son about three years later- a true gift from God. Deb and I believe that’s why I survived.
Twelve years later, I still often think of that day and, periodically, I have a dilly of a nightmare about it. Randomly, I dream of that crash. I feel the missile’s impact and a sharp wrenching of the helicopter. My legs are on fire. So is everyone around me. Sometimes, I feel the seat collapse as we hit the ground and I can’t get because the seatbelt is melted to me.
Luckily, I get to wake up and it’s over. I suspect my wife knows when the dream comes but I haven’t told her, at least not for years. She thinks the thrashing is Parkinsons, but most times it’s the dream. I have survivor’s guilt. Clinically, it’s probably a dash of PTSD, but it is isolated and I am generally doing well.
I relate this story for a reason. I am not a hero. Any Marine will tell you the real heroes didn’t come back or came back badly wounded, sometimes horribly. It’s important to remember our Veterans and the baggage they carry from the war. Thank them for their service and mean it. Their dreams might be far worse than mine.
I never heard your story, Larry. It was so powerful. So glad you were not on the helicopter, though I can understand your survivor’s guilt. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Larry, I had no idea you almost died, would’ve if not for the chance seating rearrangement. I’m glad you made it home and I thank you for serving.
Such a touching story, Larry. I feel so blessed you chose to share it with us. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. Life is truly amazing and so is each person’s purposes today, tomorrow, and after we’re gone.
Wow, God was really watching out for you on that day. I’m sure every day feels like a gift now.
Thank you for your service. I do hope the dreams lessen with more time.
Thank you for sharing this. It’s so important to remember. Thank you for your years of service.
Hi Dianne and Larry – thanks for letting us hear your story again – I hadn’t heard it … and then we don’t know what the consequences of things we do or are made to might happen.
We have wonderful Services of Remembrance here … and I always think of the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month that war ended in 1919 – or for nearly everyone … We need to remember, those who have gone, who fought for us and who lived on with memories, and for the families of all war veterans – most of us after the two World Wars.
All the best to you both – We Will Rememeber … Hilary
Wow. What a powerful story. Most of us can’t imagine what it’s like to go into combat…and how it stays with you long after those days are gone. Thank you to Larry for his service to his country.
Your story sent chills racing up my spine. What an astonishing tale of survival! Yet I can understand your survivor guilt. As a brain aneurysm survivor, I have a bit of that myself. Glad you’re still with us, Larry. And thank you for serving.
I can’t imagine a military life, with friends or acquaintances living one moment and gone the next. As hard as that can be, the human race never seems to stop fighting. I’m glad one good thing survived.
Anna from Elements of Writing
Wow. That is an amazing story. I choke up when I think of all those men and women who sacrifice so much for our safety. They deserve more than a single day to honor them. Thank you, Larry, for sharing your story!
Anyone who serves this country–whether they come home or not–is a hero. We lament the ones who never return, but we honor them by saluting those who do.
I can’t imagine living through that and NOT getting nightmares. And still, you were blessed.
As you say, all of our veterans need our love and support.
Thank you for sharing your story!
I’d deem you a hero and everyone who serves the country, especially in situations like that. Not every hero must be injured, dead or accomplish an almost insurmountable task. Being there, surviving and, I’m betting, touching the lives of those around you is heroic as well. An amazing story, and you sharing it already makes a difference. Thank you.
Wow, what a harrowing what-might-have-been experience. No wonder you still have nightmares about it, Larry. My husband still has periodic nightmares about his time as a grunt in Vietnam, and that was nearly fifty years ago, so some experiences never completely fade away. But you both came home, and I thank you and all vets for their service and sacrifices. Thanks for sharing your story.