War is Personal is part of an ongoing photojournalism project by Eugene Richards and The Nation Institute. Click here for a slideshow of images.
I remember the war in Nicaragua in the 1980s, the contra scandal, the weapons for hostages. Oliver North took the blame for Ronald Reagan. I remember when a bomb blew up in Beirut and kill about 200 Marines. I watch them on the TV, searching for them, carrying the bodies out on stretchers, pieces of them. And what I learned of Vietnam in my country? I never understood what they was fighting for. Costa Rica, it was my home when I was a boy, and we had the same climate, same weather, and I was afraid the United States would someday come to Costa Rica and do the same thing. So, when my son told me at age 17 that he was going to join the service, I said, “Oh, no,” and he said, “Don’t worry, Dad.”
His mother knew the whole time. Then they told me last, I guess because they know how I was feeling. The Marines had an office in the high school and the recruiters know everything, know who comes from divided families, especially when the father’s not around. They offer Alex thousands of dollars for signing up and help with college. Though we share custody, one parent can sign. His mother sign the paper. From that moment on, of course, I support my son. I had US Marine bumper stickers on my car, flags in my home, letting people know, even though I didn’t want him to go.
Alex went to basic training in California, then more training. Then, because he wasn’t being told anything by the military, he began asking me for information about the Middle East, about what the President is saying. Next thing I know, my son is being made ready for urban combat. Next thing he’s on the way to Kuwait, on the way to Iraq, and I’m here at home learning that there’s no nuclear armaments there, there’s none of them. I’m starting to learn all this, and my son is on the way there.
So much happen. I have two TVs at the same time, the radio on. I can’t go to sleep. I’ve been married with Mel seven years, working as a bus driver, part time, sometimes a landscaper and painter, but I can’t go to work, because I want to know what happen. I was worried, very worried, by reading all the newspapers and concentrating too much on the war on the TV. I see how my son got from here to Iraq, see them prepare for invasion, see sandstorms, they reach the Tigris River, and two Marines got killed there, and my son was traveling inside a tank that was very noisy, a lot of fuel smells. All along I see the minister of information for Saddam Hussein on TV say, “I’m going to kill all of them.” I see all the sadness, see how they kill, see how the Marines move through the dark alleyways, kick doors, blindfold people, while afraid most of the time for snipers and bombs. I was all the time calling the Marines and the Red Cross, asking them about the situation. I hear nothing about my son for days and days. It was too much, too much, too much for parents.