“We fly from California to Maryland, and in Maryland it still hadn’t hit, and we were still 18, 19, 20 year-old boys having fun on a plane. And then you look at when we got to Mannheim in Germany.”
Germany, officially outside of United States territory and he says all the Marines started to get quiet. By the time they touched down in Kuwait, Oskar felt there was no escaping the reality of the situation.
“We took regular planes there and so we had these stewardess’s. I’m just like, Oh my god, I’m gonna die, because there’s these stewardess’s that are saying goodbye to us. They’ve been with us since California and they’re crying their eyes out watching us get off this plane. I’m just like her crying is not helping me at all. I don’t want to get off this plane and I’m scared and I don’t know how I’m gonna get through this.”
So Oskar made a decision to take it one day at a time. But some days were worse than others.
“And I remember we were sitting right out front right outside of Baghdad, just before we were gonna go in and my company commander and the gunnery sergeant — I guess they didn’t see me — but I heard their conversation. The gunnery sergeant he says to the CO, ‘You know we’re not coming back with probably like half of these guys right?’
When I heard that my heart just like sank and I’m like, ‘OK, I could die today.’ And every day that I didn’t die was lucky and everybody had the same feeling and every day that I don’t die is a really lucky day.”
And staying alive is exactly what Oskar says he tried to do, until word came that he could return home to Needville. What he didn’t bank on was getting to know and care about the local Iraqi people.
“Everybody that wasn’t wearing a Marine Corps uniform was my enemy. Then as I spent more time there, it was really when I was in Baghdad that I started to notice the culture and actually realize that hey, people are people.”
In fact, Oskar even made a friend in the form of a local Iraqi woman. Her name was Mrs. Raghed and she shared what little she had with Oskar and the other Marines.
“She had nothing. She hadn’t worked in months, Baghdad had been shutdown. She was an anesthesiologist. The hospital that she worked at was gone and here she is, she gave us the last bit of food that she had. We actually ended up building a really good friendship out of that.”
Oskar remembers this as a particular turning point for him.
“I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know where she’s at. I don’t even know if she’s still alive, but I know that my being changed. I had compassion for people. This war was no longer about just an enemy; the enemy was somebody else.”
Oskar continued to fight that war for three years before he left the Marines.
While coming home to Houston was always his end goal, the reality of that was a different story. And we’ll tell that story on Monday, Memorial Day in the final part of this Memorial Day Weekend special.