Tuesday, September 7, 2010


A HALF EATEN APPLE by Kathi Harris - Sept 7, 2010

I used to love apples, but I don't anymore. They remind me too much of an incident that occurred during my tour of duty in Iraq.

I was two days into my deployment when we went on patrol. We were sweeping for dissidents in a small village of perhaps five hundred people . We met with an ambush.

The fire fight was fierce and an air strike was finally called in. There must have been a miscalculation on the coordinates, or we were just too close to the target. We were right in the line of fire when the bombs dropped. Then everything seemed to happen at once.

I saw blinding sheets of yellow-white light and heard loud booms! Then I felt the searing heat from the exlposions. It seemed as if the entire landscape disappeared in that instant. But no, there were some buildings left and people too. I could see this through the thick curtain of fire and smoke.

People ran out of the buildings - human torches - men, women, children. The smell was overpowering. I didn't think I would ever again be able to eat meat. There were shots behind me and two of the human torches fell to the ground twitching. Then someone yelled, "what the hell you doing, let them burn! Don't help them!"

Then there were screams all around us. Screams from the torch people, screams and curses from our men who had been hurt because of their proximity to the target.

I looked at these dying and wounded men around me, the broken, burned, mutilated bodies. I wondered how these so thoroughly damaged warriors would be integrated back into the society when they got back to the States. I was despondent for the families of the dead, and could imagine the depth of their grief when those knocks came on their doors. War is not pretty I started to realize. War was not at all what I had expected.

We did what we could to save the lives of our men. We applied pressure bandages and tourniquets, we administered morphine. We saved the lives of the ones that we could, and tried to comfort the ones we couldn't if we were able to speak to them before they died. We lost seven of our men in the fighting that day.The medevac helicoptors came and went, taking their eviscerated, burnt, mutilated, ruined cargo with them.

I duck-walked, bent over, dodging intermittent bullets from enemy snipers as I headed towards the buildings that were miraculously still standing. I entered the first building and saw what was left of a group of six people. It was a bloody, gut-wrenching scene.

There was a man, a woman, two small children, perhaps five and six years old and two teens, perhaps thirteen and fourteen years old. The older of these teens was the only one still alive - amazing. He held a half eaten apple in his hand. His hand shook convulsively as I approached and his fingers loosened, releasing the apple which rolled to my feet.

His eyes were huge and followed me as I neared him. The whites of his eyes stood out starkly against his bloodied, blackened face. His breathing was shallow. He looked beseechingly up at me. Help me! That's what his eloquent eyes seemed to say to me. I reached towards him. "let him die!" the private at my elbow spat angrily.

"C'mon man, he's just a kid! " I started to argue. He pushed me roughly. " You don't know that he's not a part of this ambush. This is how they're fighting this war. The enemy, and the people, have the same face, they'll use their children, their mothers, even their grandmothers to get the job done. That way they can inflict the greatest amount of damage on us. So don't you be taken in because he's a kid, they're conniving that way."

I walked away and left him there. I looked back. His eyes followed me, still begging.

We continued our search through that building and the others. But I couldn't shake the image of that face and those eyes. This went on for days, and at nights I had nightmares about him. It was a crisis of conscience really. It was one thing for an air strike to kill civilians. I would shoot to kill someone, if my position or that of my comrades- at-arms were fired upon. But to see a child in such urgent need, and not even try to help, to look him in the eye and just walk away, that brought me up short. That shook the very foundations of my morality, my ethics.

For the rest of my time in Iraq. I continued to be tormented by the fact that I had not tried to save that desperately, hopeless, pleading kid. I wondered who was right, me or the private who had said those words of condemnation. I conceded that perhaps I would never know.

But even now, five years later, I am still haunted by that kid's eyes and the sight of a half eaten apple.

- copyrighted by Kathi Harris

Magpie Tales is sponsored by Willow at http://www.magpietales.blogspot.com/. Check out her blog every Thursday for a photo prompt for your writing - poetry, story, or vignette.



At September 8, 2010 at 5:20 PM , Blogger kathew said...

wow-strong lesson here. Well done!

At September 8, 2010 at 7:42 PM , Blogger willow said...

I am in awe. What a harrowing and frightening experience. Thank you for serving our country well and for taking the time to share it with us.

At September 8, 2010 at 8:56 PM , Blogger Reflections said...

I can only imagine the haunting you feel each time you see a half eaten apple. I would like to believe that you were right, not the private, but so often we are reminded that there is both good and evil in this great world of ours.

Thank you for sharing this magpie, a reminder to us all.

At September 8, 2010 at 9:03 PM , Blogger Tumblewords: said...

Tragic, indeed. A timely reminder that real people die in wars launched by the minds of the powerful.

At September 8, 2010 at 10:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story! Made me sad and angry at the same time

At September 9, 2010 at 12:52 AM , Blogger Lydia said...

I have goosebumps after reading your magpie. It was powerful, and I appreciate your sharing this painful story. One of my nephews is in Iraq, just arrived in June and there for a year, in the final operations. I wrote a post recently with a picture he took. You can read it here if you like.

At September 9, 2010 at 8:51 PM , Blogger Book Bird Dog said...

Moving story! Great magpie! Hope to see more of your Magpie Tales!

At September 11, 2010 at 12:47 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments on my blog -
This is one of the most starkly moving pieces I have read. I was looking to see if i could follow you but can't see any way to join up - will just have to keep an eye on the Magpie list

At September 15, 2010 at 10:58 AM , Blogger kathi harris said...


Thanz 4 ur responses. Sm of the comments re The Half Eaten Apple lead me 2 believe that sm of u think this was a factual account. I am really sorry u thought this. I shd have written it in such a way that it wd have been obvious it was not. This was very insensitive of me, I was not thinking.

Perhaps I just got 2 involved in telling this story that is not often told – 2 show what is not usually talked about in war.

Life changes people, it helps 2 make u who u r. War is one of the many major catalysts in some of our lives. Experiencing war firsthand must b hugely traumatic, especially 4 our young men & women on their first tour of duty.

I dedicate this piece 2 all of our warriors both past & present, old & young, whose lives have 4ever been changed bcuz it has been touched by war.

Sorry 4 my tardiness in responding 2 these posts. I will do better nxt time.


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