Staccato account of infantry combat in Iraq.
In November 2004, Army staff sergeant Bellavia led his men into the chaotic urban fighting described here. They were part of the successful recapture of Fallujah, a command base for Iraqi insurgents. Months earlier, the burnt corpses of four American contractors had been hung from a bridge in the same city. Written with military historian Bruning (The Devil’s Sandbox, 2006, etc.), this rapid-fire recreation of the block-by-block fighting captures perfectly the horror—and horrible peak-experience attraction—of war. In an era of high-tech weaponry, Bellavia puts us on the ground with modern-day grunts who could just as easily be fighting in World War II in Europe. They are filthy, hot, tired and dehydrated as they slog through rubble, broken glass and dead bodies to conduct risky searches of houses that may be “clean” or filled with booby traps and enemy soldiers. The frantic, present-tense narrative abounds with scenes and dialogue that make this account of battle read like a realistic war novel. Bellavia emphasizes the close bonds among disparate comrades, including Lance Ohle, master of the light machine gun, who talks like a gangsta rapper; Piotr Sucholas, the Michael Moore–loving liberal with ice water for blood; and Bryan Lockwald, the guitar-playing intellectual with wire-rimmed glasses and a handlebar mustache. The men enter homes through holes blown into walls by tanks, work their way to rooftops and engage a resourceful enemy, one of whom the author knifes to death in vicious hand-to-hand combat. Discharged in 2005, Bellavia finds he misses the feeling of importance and usefulness he derived from combat, returns to Iraq briefly as a Weekly Standard journalist, then comes home to try to repair strained relations with his wife and son.
Take his word for it: “War’s a bitch, wear a helmet.”