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.
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"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."Skip to next paragraph
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'Ready to be done with it'
Emanuele was with the platoon when it deployed to Iraq again in August 2004, this time to violent Anbar Province in western Iraq. Before they left, some Marine buddies had dragged him to Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," and Emanuele says the movie's unflattering critique of Bush administration motives for invading Iraq planted a seed of a question in his thought.
Emanuele, Pinn, Corporal Clarke, and a few others became a tight group while in Anbar, discussing religion, the afterlife, politics, and where the world was heading. Emanuele increasingly spoke of his growing discomfort about the mission, which he felt was unclear, and with practices such as shooting indiscriminately in civilian areas and mistreating prisoners, both of which he'd seen other marines do and had done himself.
"A lot of guys said we signed up for this, we have to do it," Emanuele recalls in an interview. "But some of us started to have a lot of questions about what we were doing."
On the first day of their second deployment, the platoon would soon learn, the man who had previously been their company commander was killed in a nearby part of Anbar.
For Pinn, something snapped then, and any remaining zeal for the mission disappeared like a drop of water on blazing griddle.
"From that point on I was, like, 'I don't care if we have to stay in this tent the whole time,' " recalls Pinn. "I was ready to be done with it."
A Bible, a Koran, and an ambush
For Emanuele, still new to war, it would take six months in Anbar to reach that same mental state. It happened one February day in 2005. Emanuele and Clarke, along with some 25 other marines, met to plan how to destroy a nearby bridge that spanned the Euphrates River, a route that insurgents were suspected of using to transport weapons. Their sergeant read a passage from the Bible before the group set off.
They hadn't gone far when – ambush! Clarke dove into a bunker from which gunfire was erupting, killing two insurgents inside. But another fighter in the bunker took Clarke's life, only to be shot by one of the marines.
When the deadly fusillade stopped, Emanuele noticed a Koran lying open in the bunker. The insurgents, just like the marines, had been praying for blessing and protection before setting out on their mission that day.
"For us to say we are on this righteous path, and them to be on the other side doing the same thing – that threw a monkey wrench in my faith," says Emanuele, who wears on his wrist a black metal band engraved with the name "Cpl. Kevin M. Clarke."
Clarke's death deepened Emanuele's doubts about the mission in Iraq and shook to the core all that he'd been taught growing up Catholic in a devout Italian-American family. He became, he says, "completely a nonbeliever after that day."
But those thoughts would come later. Right then, Emanuele just knew his closest friend in the platoon was gone.
"When Kevin died, that was a little bit heavy for everybody, especially for Vince," says Pinn, understatedly. "He probably had a closer relationship with Kevin than anyone else."
"That incident changed the rest of the deployment," says Emanuele. "That changed the whole mood."