John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

  • Music:

A heartwarming and amusing tale of the Iraq War

I'm in the middle of a book called Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt. I don't know that it's the best written book I've ever read—though perhaps it's just that the writing style is not to my taste—but nevertheless it's interesting reading. One thing I found particularly interesting was this passage from the chapter about Gunnery Sergeant Yolanda Mayo and Captain Kelly Frushour, US Marine Corps, which relates a heartwarming and amusing story I'd never heard before:

While in Al Kut, the Marines from Task Force Tarawa found a patch of land overgrown with weeds and littered with trash. Soon, Marines would learn that this area was the final resting place for soldiers who fought in World War I as British troops sought an alternative route to the center of the Ottoman Empire. With Gallipoli a failing battle, the British decided to approach via Mesopotamia, now modern day Iraq.

The troops landed in Umm Quasr and moved north to Baghdad through the Tigris River valley. North of Al Kut but south of the capital, the British troops found they could push no further. They fell back to Al Kut where they were besieged for approximately six months. Many found their final resting place there.

Along with the weeds and trash, the headstones had been weathered and damaged; some were not visible due to the dense vegetation, some had toppled over and were broken. The Marines were appalled by the condition of the cemetery and decided to do something about it. They cleaned it up by replacing the headstones, pulling the weeds, and picking up the trash. The Iraqis saw what they were doing and joined in. When they were finished, the invited the British soldiers and vicar and held a solemn rededication ceremony.

The cemetery was bordered on three sides by buildings. During the ceremony Iraqis stood in the windows and watched. At the end of the solemn ceremony, everyone bowed their heads as the vicar said a final prayer. When they were finished, the Iraqis wanted to contribute to the ceremony and sing, but knew only one American song. They sang "Happy Birthday."

It's somewhat ironic that I never heard this story; Mayo and Frushour were a public affairs team. (In all fairness, it was reported upon, just not where I was likely to see it.)

Tags: history, reading: books

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