“He Has Seen The Elephant”

This phrase came to my mind as I was commenting in the post I did honoring SFC Matthew Blaskowski.

I couldn’t remember which war it had come from, so I googled it and found this article that Joe Galloway had written in 2004.  I do believe I posted it on my other blog but sadly, the editor I was using fried my data base and I lost 2 years of posts.  (side note: Can anyone tell me how to back up blogs??!!)

But with all the disrespectful treatment of our troops going on in this country and in Congress, I felt I needed to post it again.  You see, the troops on watch tonight, all over the world, not just in Iraq, are not just “numbers” or “body counts” or fake crosses in a field  or on a beach in CA.  They are our flesh and blood, doing a job not many can or will do.  

Disrespect is not an option here.


Joe Galloway: What It’s Really Like Over There

June 23, 2004

 WASHINGTON – The Internet, which fills our inboxes with spam and scams every day and keeps our delete keys shiny, occasionally delivers a real keeper, such as the words below, which were written by a graduate of West Point, Class of 2003, who’s now at war in Iraq.

We tracked down the author, who gave us permission to quote from his letter so long as we didn’t reveal his name.

Old soldiers in the Civil War coined a phrase for green troops who survived their first taste of battle: “He has seen the elephant.” This Army lieutenant sums up the combat experience better than many a grizzled veteran:

“Well, I’m here in Iraq, and I’ve seen it, and done it. I’ve seen everything you’ve ever seen in a war movie. I’ve seen cowardice; I’ve seen heroism; I’ve seen fear; and I’ve seen relief. I’ve seen blood and brains all over the back of a vehicle, and I’ve seen men bleed to death surrounded by their comrades. I’ve seen people throw up when it’s all over, and I’ve seen the same shell-shocked look in 35-year-old experienced sergeants as in 19-year-old privates.

“I’ve heard the screams – ‘Medic! Medic!’ I’ve hauled dead civilians out of cars, and I’ve looked down at my hands and seen them covered in blood after putting some poor Iraqi civilian in the wrong place at the wrong time into a helicopter. I’ve seen kids with gunshot wounds, and I’ve seen kids who’ve tried to kill me.

“I’ve seen men tell lies to save lives: ‘What happened to Sergeant A.?’ The reply: ‘C’mon man, he’s all right – he’s wondering if you’ll be OK – he said y’all will have a beer together when you get to Germany.’ SFC A. was lying 15 feet away on the other side of the bunker with two medics over him desperately trying to get either a pulse or a breath. The man who asked after SFC A. was himself bleeding from two gut wounds and rasping as he tried to talk with a collapsed lung. One of them made it; one did not.

“I’ve run for cover as fast as I’ve ever run – I’ll hear the bass percussion thump of mortar rounds and rockets exploding as long as I live. I’ve heard the shrapnel as it shredded through the trailers my men live in and over my head. I’ve stood, gasping for breath, as I helped drag into a bunker a man so pale and badly bloodied I didn’t even recognize him as a soldier I’ve known for months. I’ve run across open ground to find my soldiers and make sure I had everyone.

“I’ve raided houses, and shot off locks, and broken in windows. I’ve grabbed prisoners, and guarded them. I’ve looked into the faces of men who would have killed me if I’d driven past their IED (improvised explosive device) an hour later. I’ve looked at men who’ve killed two people I knew, and saw fear.

“I’ve seen that, sadly, that men who try to kill other men aren’t monsters, and most of them aren’t even brave – they aren’t defiant to the last – they’re ordinary people. Men are men, and that’s it. I’ve prayed for a man to make a move toward the wire, so I could flip my weapon off safe and put two rounds in his chest – if I could beat my platoon sergeant’s shotgun to the punch. I’ve been wanted dead, and I’ve wanted to kill.

“I’ve sworn at the radio when I heard one of my classmate’s platoon sergeants call over the radio: ‘Contact! Contact! IED, small arms, mortars! One KIA, three WIA!’ Then a burst of staccato gunfire and a frantic cry: ‘Red 1, where are you? Where are you?’ as we raced to the scene…knowing full well we were too late for at least one of our comrades.

“I’ve seen a man without the back of his head and still done what I’ve been trained to do – ‘medic!’ I’ve cleaned up blood and brains so my soldiers wouldn’t see it – taken pictures to document the scene, like I’m in some sort of bizarre cop show on TV.

“I’ve heard gunfire and hit the ground, heard it and closed my Humvee door, and heard it and just looked and figured it was too far off to worry about. I’ve seen men stacked up outside a house, ready to enter – some as scared as they could be, and some as calm as if they were picking up lunch from McDonald’s. I’ve laughed at dead men, and watched a sergeant on the ground, laughing so hard he was crying, because my boots were stuck in a muddy field, all the while an Iraqi corpse was not five feet from him.

“I’ve heard men worry about civilians, and I’ve heard men shrug and sum up their viewpoint in two words – ‘F— ’em.’ I’ve seen people shoot when they shouldn’t have, and I’ve seen my soldiers take an extra second or two, think about it, and spare somebody’s life.

“I’ve bought drinks from Iraqis while new units watched in wonder from their trucks, pointing weapons in every direction, including the Iraqis my men were buying a Pepsi from. I’ve patrolled roads for eight hours at a time that combat support units spend days preparing to travel 10 miles on. I’ve laughed as other units sit terrified in traffic, fingers nervously on triggers, while my soldiers and I deftly whip around, drive on the wrong side of the road, and wave to Iraqis as we pass. I can recognize a Sadiqqi (Arabic for friend) from a Haji (Arabic word for someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca, but our word for a bad guy); I know who to point my weapons at, and who to let pass.

“I’ve come in from my third 18-hour patrol in as many days with a full beard and stared at a major in a pressed uniform who hasn’t left the wire since we’ve been here, daring him to tell me to shave. He looked at me, looked at the dust and sweat and dirt on my uniform, and went back to typing at his computer.

“I’ve stood with my men in the mess hall, surrounded by people whose idea of a bad day in Iraq is a six-hour shift manning a radio, and watched them give us a wide berth as we swagger in, dirty, smelly, tired, but sure in our knowledge that we pull the triggers, and we do what the Army does, and they, with their clean uniforms and weapons that have never fired, support us.

“I’ve given a kid water and Gatorade and made a friend for life. I’ve let them look through my sunglasses – no one wears them in this country but us – and watched them pretend to be an American soldier – a swaggering invincible machine, secure behind his sunglasses, only because the Iraqis can’t see the fear in his eyes.

“I’ve said it a thousand times – ‘God, I hate this country.’ I’ve heard it a million times more – ‘This place sucks.’ In quieter moments, I’ve heard more profound things: ‘Sir, this is a thousand times worse than I ever thought it would be.’ Or, ‘My wife and Sgt. B’s wife were good friends – I hope she’s taking it well.’

“They say they’re scared, and say they won’t do this or that, but when it comes time to do it they can’t let their buddies down, can’t let their friends go outside the wire without them, because they know it isn’t right for the team to go into the ballgame at any less than 100 percent.

“That’s combat, I guess, and there’s no way you can be ready for it. It just is what it is, and everybody’s experience is different. Just thought you might want to know what it’s really like.”

Only one who has seen the elephant can speak of it in all sincerity, but rarely does to those who have not.




October 4, 2007. Tags: , , , . military, War.


  1. Flag Gazer replied:

    That is an incredible piece – it touches me everytime I read it. Thank you for posting it again.

  2. snooper replied:

    I have written of such things as this.

    From one of my posts:


    As a Warrior, no longer in uniform, I learned to recognize the Fraud Warrior. There are many, albeit a scant few in the grand scheme of things, join the military for the benefits and the gravitas of a man or woman in uniform. The educational benefits are pretty much second to none. The health care while serving is first class. Those that join with the intention of never actually “fighting”, are suffering from delusions of grandeur.

    Once the Oaths of Service are spoken, sworn to and signed, ALL personal “feelings” are second rate. IAW the UCMJ, a military member is the property of the United States Government, plain and simple. That point is sent home several times before the oaths are administered. We ALL volunteered and we ALL were told and made to understand that swearing the oaths and donning the uniform of military service, we were henceforth and for the duration(s) of our sworn service to God, Flag and Country, expected to give our all up to and including our lives.

    We were not guaranteed a right to opt out of a war. We were not offered the luxury of picking and choosing the fights we may be sent to fight. This is what I find most sadly laughable when I hear one of the cowards of Vets For Peace ramble on and on…we call them the Wonder Warriors. Sure, some have actually seen combat and it scared them to the point that they have to hide behind the likes of Soltz to get some courage up to prattle and yammer on in a vain attempt to hide their disappointments in themselves because they have to justify their hidden fears…to themselves and they cannot; I can see it in their eyes, even though they hide behind their dark sunglasses.

    I don’t know anyone that has seen combat that wasn’t scared as scared could ever get, myself included. Lead and steel projectiles hurtling towards your general or specific direction is something one will never for ever forget and at times one can still hear the action echoing in the memory caches we carry with us forever and ever…some of us still can smell the smells and taste the tastes.

    The True Warriors know and knew the risks we took and take to honor our Oaths of Service and carry those oaths to our graves. We, unlike the Wonder Warriors, don’t discard our oaths when we discard the uniform. We, unlike the Wonder Warriors, have a high self-esteem and are proud to have served and proud of those that still do.

    I am ashamed for the Vets For Peace in that they have betrayed their Oaths Of Service and have gotten caught up in the emotional fervor of cowardice and they found a venue in which to color their “afraidness” a different color.

    I spit on them for betraying their oaths and those still fighting but are still fighting, going back for tour after tour. Cowardice under fire, when one is spineless, quits and whines and produces venomous rhetoric to mask their cowardice. Bravery comes to play when one is a coward or is scared and does it anyway because he or she knows that someone must do it and the costs of not doing it is far greater for all concerned.

    Peace Activists my ass.


    I have added your post to my sidebar as a featured post.

    God I hate war.

  3. yankeemom2 replied:

    Snooper ~ thank you for your heartfelt comment! I will always be so grateful for all who have stood up and raised their right hand and then stay the course, no matter how terrifying it is. We must not abandon our vets after they put down their rifles and hang up their boots.
    I have no patience with those who enlist during wartime and then whine about being sent into combat or crying that their recruiter lied to them. I have no respect for Vets for Peace or any of those groups. They aren’t fit to wipe your boots. I have pity tho – what a miserable feeling they must have in their gut all the time.
    I, too, so hate war.
    But I treasure my freedoms and am eternally grateful to all those who fought and fight now so that my family and I can continue in our precious way of life.

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