Thursday, April 23, 2009

Into Iraq: Last Night in Baghdad

As the group reassembled at the "Hotel Uday and Qusay", alot of emotions started to flow.

One by one, almost every person on the trip sought Zac and me out to chat. I have come to realize that we are a rarity. There are 4200 Gold Star Families from Iraq. That's alot of sadness, but it is a small number amongst 300 million Americans.

We have experienced thousands of these meetings in the past 18 months. Sometimes, people avoid us because they don't know how or just can't handle it. That's ok. Usually, they just open their arms and say "I'm sorry, I don't know what to say."

We have learned that there is nothing exactly right to say. There are no magic words. A hug and an acknowledgement is all anyone can do. And for us, don't be concerned about bringing up Pete. We like talking about him. It keeps him alive. We love to tell his stories. Especially the funny ones.

Susan Botsford, Miss America 1978, approached me and said, "I have been trying to figure out what to say all week. I have children your age. I can't imagine. I just want you to know how sorry I am and how I appreciate what you are doing." Then she hugged me and we misted up together.

Lee Ann Tweeden found me and Zac. She hugged us, wept a little, told us how sorry she was, and told us how much she appreciated our being on the trip. We learned that this was her 10th trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. Her dad is a Vietnam vet. She gets it.

She told us that she is engaged, and she met her fiance on one of the trips. He is an Air Force pilot.

She asked, "What was it like for you when Pete deployed?"

"Sick with worry 24 hours a day. Sit by the computer for email. Never be away from the phone less you miss the precious call. And tremble anytime the doorbell rings."

"I assumed as much. That's how I feel and I was just wondering if I was doing something wrong."

No, Lee Ann. You are doing it all right. Just because she is blindingly beautiful doesn't mean she isn't smart as a whip, down to earth, and big hearted. She is a patriot of the highest order.

Steven Baldwin, one of the Baldwin brothers, was on the trip. More hugs and tears.

Corinne Chapman, a singer from Nashville that you will hear on the radio soon, was seated near Zac and I on the plane the entire trip. The best hugs. Incredibly supportive.

Jeff Bolton, morning talk show host at KLIF in Dallas, sat us down for several talks. His kids attend the same school Pete attended. He said his family will never forget the day the school shared the news about Pete's passing. Jeff worked his butt off broadcasting from Iraq every day. He is a new family friend. Bonded by faith, love of country, and touched by Pete.

We finally began making our way to bed. Another early call was coming the next morning, and it was late.

I was filthy. Tomorrow would be a long day of travel. And I really didn't want to shower in the pleasure palace. What had happened there? Who had been under that shower head?

Zac was the same way. We finally manned up and took the fastest showers in recorded history. Oooooooo yuk.

The sleeping arrangement for us was a large room with three metal bunk beds. Fish and I were the last two to pick a spot. I offered to take the top bunk. Unbeknownst to me, Zac had already made bets with the others in the room that I couldn't get my ass up there.

This is when the giggling started. Once I realized what was going on, I did a Fosbury flop and made it on the first try. Not pretty, but up there.

Then the farting started from various corners of the room. The bunk beds were shaking and squeaking from the body laughs.

Fish then gave us some great news. "I just want you to know I don't snore."

"Much appreciated, Mike", I said. "I want to announce that I do. And I don't want any crap about it."

Mike then continued to talk. As a friend says about such folks, "They were vaccinated with a phonograph needle."

Fish was in mid-sentence, and then snoring. He had every move down. The full hog intake. Puff. Groan. A pro. I laughed for an hour. Trying not to shake the bed too much cause I didn't want to wake him.

Somehow I drifted off to sleep. In the middle of the night I had that awful occasion of waking up and having no idea where I was. Then it hit me. I was in the top bunk of in the pleasure palace in Baghdad. And I had to pee.

I started to maneuver to get out of the crow's nest, and woke Zac up in the process. I realized that crawling down would result in stepping on Fish. So I did the only thing that made sense. I jumped.

It was a long way down. I still have the imprint in the bottom of my foot from where I landed on the seams in the marble floor. Zac thought I had broken an ankle. When he realized I was upright, he started laughing at me so hard that a lesser man would have had his feelings hurt.

After visiting the gold trimmed commode, I returned. Now how the hell am I going to get back up there.

I find one of the gaudy chairs left over from the reign of terror and jerry-rig a ladder to get back into bed.

Fish never moved. I was quickly back asleep.

Zac is still laughing.


  1. Thanks for these blogs...I have been anticipating them each day. Knowing the perspective from which you are writing makes it even more special to me....While sad I know this trip had to make you even more proud of Pete and what he was doing for me and our country...


  2. Yeah, I second that. I've been checking your blog each time I get on the internet hoping for a new entry. When I knew you were going to Iraq I so looked forward to hearing and reading about your experience. Thanks for sharing it all with us.


  3. Alan - You continue to make Pete proud...I know it from the bottom of my heart. Growing up with Pete, he would always have the the best, and longest, stories. He had many about you through the years. He always spoke of such respect and admoration of were just one of the cool dads. I enjoyed getting to spend the day with you last month at the Pi Kapp Pete Burks Alumni Golf and Poker Tournament, and I told you I could not wait to hear your stories of the trip to Iraq. I know that there are more that will be better told over a frothy brew, but these here are just wonderful, and you have made your son proud. He is up in heaven recounting these tales to his new friends up there...just waiting to have you there with him to share more. Good work!