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Book excerpt: Marines look back on Iraq War 20 years later in "Battle Scars"


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Twenty years after the invasion of Iraq, former CBS and NBC journalist Chip Reid, who was embedded with U.S. forces when the Iraq War broke out, talks to combat veterans of the 3d Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment and their families about how the war changed their lives in his new book, "Battle Scars"  (Casemate),

Read an excerpt below, and don't miss Chip Reid discuss the post-war experiences of veterans on "CBS Sunday Morning" July 7!

"Battle Scars" by Chip Reid

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On Thanksgiving Day 2021, while driving from my home in Washington, D.C. to the Philadelphia suburbs for a family dinner, a souped-up pickup truck roared past me on I-95. It had temporary plates and two Marine Corps stickers, one on the rear window and one on the bumper. I thought: "Isn't that just like a Marine. He just bought the damn thing and it's already plastered with Marine Corps stickers."

That got me thinking about the most challenging, gratifying, jaw-dropping, and frightening story I covered in my 33 years as a journalist—the slightly less than six weeks I spent embedded with 3d Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (3/5 for short), during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

For years I had thought that one day I would escape the journalism rat-race and write a book, but I hadn't settled on a topic. "That's it!" I thought as the pickup disappeared out of sight. For the 20th anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2023, I would write a book about the Marines of 3/5.

As I drove, I thought of questions I wanted to ask them. Where are they today and what are they doing? Do they have families? How did their lives change due to their first combat experience? (It was the first combat for almost all of them.) What did they learn as Marines that helped them prosper in civilian life? Did they struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? What do they think about the war today?

When I returned home, I reached out to some of the Marines I had occasionally stayed in touch with and started asking questions. I found their stories fascinating and powerful—and they were eager to tell them. They clearly did not want their service and their sacrifice to be forgotten.

At first, I thought I could get a good cross-section with about a dozen Marines, but word spread about my project and requests to be included started pouring in. Eventually I interviewed more than forty Marines, plus several wives and grown children, whose experiences and insights were often as engrossing as those of the Marines. …

I was often surprised, sometimes stunned, by their honesty, how deep they reached to tell me their stories. On several occasions I heard the words "I've never told this to anybody who's not a Marine, but ..." I was deeply gratified that they still trusted me after all those years. …

In writing a tribute to the Marines of 3/5, I believe it's important to honor not only their service, but also their sacrifice—in battle and in the two decades since. Indeed, there is quite a bit of sacrifice in the pages that follow, including death in battle; death by tragic accident; life-changing injuries; and the whole panoply of nightmarish symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Also, of course, addiction, divorce, and suicide, which tend to plague the armed forces to a greater degree than the non-military public.

But there is also much that's positive and life-affirming in this book: heroism in battle; the intense, life-long camaraderie among Marines; patriotism and belief in one's mission; life-changing traits learned as Marines; and the Post-Traumatic Growth that often follows PTSD.

Excerpt from "Battle Scars," copyright © 2023 by Chip Reid. Reprinted with permission. 

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"Battle Scars" by Chip Reid

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