Glamour magazine has a riveting article in its June issue about the events of June 23, 2005, when three women Marines were killed (along with three of their male counterparts) and 11 more were badly wounded by an Iraqi suicide bomber in Fallujah.
Here is a snapshot of a couple of the victims:
Women make up a small portion of the marines-6 percent, compared with 15 percent in the military overall-so when female friendships click, they tend to be fast and strong. [20-year-old Angelica] Jimenez had grown particularly close to Holly Charette, a 21-year-old lance corporal from Rhode Island who was well liked because she also worked in the mail room and would sort through stacks of correspondence if someone came in desperate for a letter. A former cheerleader, Charette had a huge collection of chick-flick DVDs and had memorized Britney Spears’ dance moves, which she’d occasionally show off. ‘The girl was just smiles, smiles, smiles all the time,’ says Jimenez. The two women called each other by their last names-often marines don’t even know their friends’ first names-but that didn’t stop them from talking about everything: Charette’s younger brothers, the boyfriend she adored, Jimenez’s siblings, the husband she’d married just two weeks before leaving for Iraq. During their breaks, Charette would read aloud racy passages from a book called Addicted, and both women would howl with laughter….
More than that, the hours to come would mark a historical reckoning point for female soldiers. For while the Iraqi conflict is much like any other war-filled with split-second decisions, reckless mistakes and impromptu displays of heroism-the faces of the combatants have changed. In a war with no classic front lines, women share the dangers with men, and these female marines would prove that they, like generations of male soldiers before them, were ready to fight, risk their lives and even die trying to protect each other.
And so it happened: Charette was killed in the bomb-blast, and Jimenez badly burned all over her body:
Burns are notoriously vicious wounds, slow to heal as well as excruciatingly painful, so much so that in the case of second- and third-degree injuries, even the maximum amount of morphine considered safe is of little help -it may dull the torture, but the pain is always there, all-consuming, searing. To make matters worse, the treatment itself is brutal: Burn patients must undergo a painful shower to cleanse the wounds, then get scrubbed down in a process called debridement, which peels away dead layers of skin and is so agonizing that it must be performed under general anesthesia. Even being wrapped in sterile bandages is almost more contact than a burn patient can bear. Because the treatment is repeated every few days, patients know what’s coming and learn to dread it.
And here is what it was like for Jimenez when she started to heal:
As the women grew healthier, they encountered another test: facing the public with their scarred and battered faces. ‘We have to carry these scars for the rest of our lives,’ says Jimenez. ‘You want to feel good about yourself, and if you’ve got some big scar on your face, it’s traumatic.
On one of their first outings from the hospital, she and [fellow Marine and fellow attack victim, 23-year-old Nicole] Cardile treated themselves to a meal at a San Antonio diner. At a nearby table sat a mother with her kids, who pointed and stared. Before the marines even had time to notice, Cardile’s sister Nicole jumped up. ‘You can ask what happened,’ she told the family. ‘These girls got blown up in Iraq.’ The mother started apologizing. ‘I’m not mad,’ Nicole said. ‘We see you pointing-just ask.’
All 11 survivors received well-deserved Purple Hearts along with their male companions. Their courage at Fallujah brings tears to my eyes. But now, these very young Marines must muster up a different kind of courage: the courage to face 40, 50, 60 years of living their lives as women. I’m sure that the unmarried among them will be able to find men for husbands who are worthy of them–worthy because those men will be able to see past the disfigurement to the true beauty that bravery and honor endow upon their bearers.
But it’s going to be rough, very rough–a lifetime of stares from strangers. And it makes you wonder whether we Americans really ought to be subjecting our women to a testing of their courage even more prolonged and severe than the testing that male soldiers face, a testing that will last long after their terms of service are over, the Purple Hearts packed away in boxes, and the horror of Fallujah a distant memory.