Same war. Same platoon. Two paths since leaving Iraq.
Travis Pinn and Vincent Emanuele served side by side in Anbar Province. Now civilians again, one just wants the quiet life; the other aspires to help end the war.
Silver Spring, Md.
Vincent Emanuele thinks of his teenage self growing up in Indiana and recalls being interested in three things: "girls, beer, and sports." About that same time, out in California, Travis Pinn was looking for adventure: scuba diving, shooting guns, and jumping out of planes.Skip to next paragraph
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Both joined the Marine Corps in 2002 as the US prepared to invade Iraq. Assigned to the same platoon, they fought and lived side by side in Iraq's stark western plains. Now, six years later, both have left the Marines, profoundly changed by their time at war.
But their shared experiences have set the two veterans on different paths. Mr. Emanuele, the former teenage jock, is an intellectually curious antiwar activist who aspires to make big changes in the world. Mr. Pinn, the daredevil, is introspective, starting a career as a set painter for Hollywood and trying to live life at a slower, simpler pace. Of the two, Emanuele's is the more unusual evolution, and veterans who speak out against the wars in which they fought have a storied and somewhat controversial history in American history.
But Pinn is not critical of his buddy's opposition to the war in Iraq – or his decision to go public about it. "I support him," says Pinn. "He's working to make people aware."
Two lives converge in the Marines
"Vinny" Emanuele was in the high school gym in Chesterton, Ind., lifting weights to stay in shape for baseball season, when someone turned on a TV in time to see the second plane crash into the World Trade Center. His response was to spit a racial slur into the face of an Arab-American classmate, telling her that her people were responsible for the attack.
About the same time, Pinn had finished high school in Los Angeles and, directionless, revived his childhood dream of finding adventure through the military.
By March 2003, the two were together on Kuwait's border with Iraq, poised with the rest of the 3rd platoon of Alpha Company First Battalion, Seventh Marines, for the invasion. Pinn turned 20 years old one day, and on the next he stormed into southern Iraq with a hung-ho platoon of "rebels" who would become especially close. He was a "team leader" of a handful of men, including Cpl. Kevin Clarke, a close friend of Emanuele's. But Emanuele wasn't with them. Just days before the invasion, Emanuele was called back to the US because his mother was suddenly hospitalized.
For several weeks Pinn and the 3rd platoon fought their way north from town to town toward Baghdad. One of their own was killed in battle, he says in a phone interview. When the platoon finally paused in the southern holy city of Najaf, he had time to reflect.
"I read more books and was thinking about what was going on around me," Pinn says of that time in Najaf. "I think the first [deployment] changed me the most and desensitized me for the second."