The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell
Thorndike Press; Largeprint edition (January 18, 2006)
John Crawford joined the Florida National Guard to pay for his college tuition, willingly exchanging one weekend a month and two weeks a year for a free education. But in fall 2002, one semester short of graduating and newly married-in fact, on his honeymoon-he was called to active duty and sent to the front lines in Iraq.
We crossed the berm the same day as the Army's Third Infantry Division, leading the invasion of Iraq. When the Third Division was sent home, our National Guard unit was passed around the armed forces like a virus: the 108th Airborne, First Marine Expeditionary, 101st Airborne, and finally the First Armored Division. They were all sent home, heroes of the war. Meanwhile, my unit stayed on, my soul rotting, our unit outlasted by no one in our tenure there.
Crawford and his unit spent months upon months patrolling the streets of Baghdad, occupying a hostile city. During the breaks between patrols, Crawford began writing nonfiction stories about what he and his fellow soldiers witnessed and experienced.
The world hears war stories told by reporters and retired generals who keep extensive notebooks and journals. They carry pens as they walk, whereas I carry a machine gun. War stories are told to those who have not experienced the worst in man. And to the listener's ears they can sound like glory and heroism. People mutter phrases like, "I don't know how you did it." And they look at you wondering how you have changed, wondering if you have forever lost the moral dilemma associated with taking another person's life.
In a voice at once raw and immediate, Crawford's stories vividly chronicle the daily life of a young soldier in Iraq-the excitement, the horror, the anger, the tedium, the fear, the camaraderie. But all together, the stories gradually uncover something more: the transformation of a group of young men, innocents, into something entirely different.
I have too many stories to tell, and if just a few of them get read, the ones that real people will understand, then maybe someone will know what we did here. It won't assuage the suffering inside me, inside all of us. It won't bring back anyone's son or brother or wife. It will simply make people aware, if only for one glimmering moment, of what war is really like.
Those stories became this book, a haunting and powerful, brutal but compellingly honest book-punctuated with both humor and heartbreak-that represents an important document revealing the actual experience of waging the War in Iraq, as well as the introduction of a literary voice forged in the most intense of circumstances.
About the Author
John Crawford was newly married and two credits away from completing a B.A. in anthropology at Florida State University when he was sent to Iraq. He thought he was finished with his soldiering days after completing a stint with the Army's famed 101st Airborne Division, and his National Guard service was little more than an afterthought. Crawford and his National Guard unit crossed into Iraq on the first day of the invasion. Baghdad fell more quickly than anyone had planned, and while most of the soldiers involved with the invasion were sent home, Crawford's National Guard unit stayed to patrol the city for more than a year. Crawford now lives in Florida, where he is completing his degree and writing. He no longer has any affiliation with the Army.