I struggle every day with my feelings about what’s happening in Iraq. Not a subject I can write about casually. But occasionally, I read something that sort of cuts through all the anger and depression and turns the casualty statistics into wrenching flesh-and-blood reality. A great example today: A long dispatch from Dexter Filkins of The New York Times relating the Fallujah fighting as he saw it while accompanying a Marine company through the thick of the combat. One vignette:
“More than once, death crept up and snatched a member of Bravo Company and quietly slipped away. Cpl. Nick Ziolkowski, nicknamed Ski, was a Bravo Company sniper. For hours at a stretch, Corporal Ziolkowski would sit on a rooftop, looking through the scope on his bolt-action M-40 rifle, waiting for guerrillas to step into his sights. The scope was big and wide, and Corporal Ziolkowski often took off his helmet to get a better look.
“Tall, good-looking and gregarious, Corporal Ziolkowski was one of Bravo Company’s most popular soldiers. Unlike most snipers, who learned to shoot growing up in the countryside, Corporal Ziolkowski grew up near Baltimore, unfamiliar with guns. Though Baltimore boasts no beach front, Corporal Ziolkowski’s passion was surfing; at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Bravo Company’s base, he would often organize his entire day around the tides.
‘” All I need now is a beach with some waves,’ Corporal Ziolkowski said, during a break from his sniper duties at Falluja’s Grand Mosque, where he killed three men in a single day.
“During that same break, Corporal Ziolkowski foretold his own death. The snipers, he said, were now among the most hunted of American soldiers.
“In the first battle for Falluja, in April, American snipers had been especially lethal, Corporal Ziolkowski said, and intelligence officers had warned him that this time, the snipers would be targets.
” ‘They are trying to take us out,’ Corporal Ziolkowski said.
“The bullet knocked Corporal Ziolkowski backward and onto the roof. He had been sitting there on the outskirts of the Shuhada neighborhood, an area controlled by insurgents, peering through his wide scope. He had taken his helmet off to get a better view. The bullet hit him in the head.”
[Update on June 6, 2006: While doing a little reading and surfing for a post on Iraq War photography, I came across an unpublished picture of Corporal Ziolkowski shot by photographer (and sometimes New York Times stringer) Ashley Gilbertson. The picture depicts Ziolkowski and a spotter in a setting that well could be the Grand Mosque mentioned in Filkins’s report; that’s the the position from which the corporal killed is said to have killed three enemy fighters. The link to the picture, on the Aurora Photos site: http://www.auroraphotos.com/bin/Detail?ln=8158700002.]