It seems egotistical and obnoxious, writing your own memoir. And a self-portrait on the cover?!? C’mon, really?
Reasonable as those sentiments may be, and believe me I’ve experienced them over this, there are reasons behind the project which I hope will expiate me. The project was borne out of necessity, and from there it evolved.
At first I simply kept a journal. I was in country, in the war, and many nights before I could sleep I sat on my haunches in a chair in our tent and typed away for all I was worth. I had to record what this was, what had happened there, what they’d done, what we’d done. I didn’t know else what to do with it all. I’d jog five or six miles in the desert almost every day, I’d talk with my company mates who became so dear to me it’s indescribable, but it wasn’t enough. You absorb this energy and it’s got to go somewhere. I had to place it somewhere.
And then when I got home I went back to writing. More thoughts would pop into my head in the day and at night, like faeries, and before I forgot them all I had to capture them in print. I had to remember them. Then once I remembered everything I had to work it through, arrange, rearrange, get it right or as best as I could. And then I had to recognize all the people involved as best as I could before they all dissipated from memory too, like ghosts at dawn. Once I’d done all that it was probably two years down the road from returning.
Afghanistan 2009-2010 was stressful and intense and during that time I took every spare moment –and being “Medical” there were spare moments to be had– to write a story called “The End.” My father had always intended to write a book but he died before he ever got the chance so during that deployment although I didn’t really expect I’d be killed I figured to be safe I’d better get something down for my kids to have just in case. Was it melodramatic of me to feel that way? yes, as only a few doctors have died in these conflicts, but not zero doctors. Plus on a practical note when would I ever get that kind of time again?
After I got back I went to a writer’s conference in San Francisco regarding “The End” and aside from that book I was urged to work more on collecting those other notes from the war into a book of it’s own. After finishing work on “The End” I asked my editor (Ralph Scott), who was not a p’s and q’s guy, (he is a person who could read the whole thing, digest it, ask what it was I needed to communicate, and figure out the best way to communicate it) about the idea of a memoir on Afghanistan. He liked the idea and I gave him my first draft. He was a coach and a tough one at that. And halfway through the first draft he wrote me that he couldn’t read any more of it. It was that bad.
I got that kind of time again during the second tour to Afghanistan which came a couple of years later. During the interim between I’d spent a thousand hours writing and re-writing notes on the first deployment, and sent them back to Ralph. This time we had it right, and we moved forward from there. Another six or ten complete re-writes and we were done.
Earlier this month we had our 10-year (pushed back x2 years because of covid) 2nd MEB reunion, held in Quantico Virginia. The 2nd MEB received a Presidential Unit Citation hence the colors of the lanyards around our necks. That’s where having written the memoir, for the first time, really felt like it was worth all the effort. “Medical” is usually a black box: you send your troop, your best friend, your son in there fresh from the battlefield, something happens you don’t know what, and then you live with the results for the rest of your life. The memoir clarified for the Marines there, their families, and all the other concerned individuals what went on in “Medical.” I really felt that at the time, and across the entire reunion. “Citizen Surgeon” was about us; I had to be its protagonist as every book needs one, but it’s really about us as a group, doing our best to “negotiate the price for freedom.”
The most lasting memory of the reunion for me will be sitting amongst the Gold Star families at the Marine Corps parade at the 8th & I Barracks, and when the Star Spangled Banner was played by the Marine Corps Band, hearing hearing their voices as they sang along. What an incredible, amazing, patriotic, and giving group of people. I shall never forget them.