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Operation Homecoming book cover: troops around tank

Operation Homecoming: To the Fallen {format} {format} {format} 3:54 Barrett Golding

A frustrated email after multiple funerals.

Broadcast: Oct 8 2007 on HV PODCAST; Jan 8 2007 on NPR Day to DaySeries: Operation Homecoming Subjects: War, International

Sergeant Sorts Through War's Chaos in Letter Home

January 8, 2007 from Day to Day

Sergeant JOHN MCCARY (U.S. Army): My name is John McCary. I was a sergeant in the United States Army. I was a 97 Echo Arabic interrogator, human intelligence collector.


John McCary wrote to his family a lot while he was stationed in Iraq. But one of those e-mails was different from the rest and John McCary shares it with us here, as part of our series, Operation Homecoming.

Sgt. MCCARY: Dear all, we are dying. Not in some philosophical, chronological, the end comes for all of us sooner or later sense. Just dying. Sure, it's an occupational hazard, and yeah, you can get killed walking down the street in Anytown, USA. But not like this. Not car bombs that leave craters in the road, not jeering crowds that celebrate your destruction.

I'm okay, Mom. I'm just a little shaken, a little sad. I know this isn't any divine mission. No God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha or other divinity ever decreed, go get your body ripped to shreds, it's for the better. This is man's doing. This is man's war. And war it is. It is not fair, nor right, nor simple, nor is it over. I wish the presence of those responsible only to dissipate, to transform into average citizens, fathers, sons and brothers. I don't care about bloodlust, justice or revenge.

But they - they will not rest until our souls are wiped from this plane of existence, until we no longer exist in their world. Nothing less suffices. And so we will fight. I will not waiver, nor falter. Many of my fellows will cry for no mercy, no compassion. For those responsible, for those whose goal is destruction purely for effect, death only as a message, for whom killing is a means of communication, I cannot promise we or I will give pardon. With all we will be harsh and strict, but not unjust, not indiscriminate. And we will not give up. We cannot. Our lives are forever tied to those lost, and we cannot leave them now, as we might have were they still living.

For this particular letter in January of 2004, I was writing after a fairly heavy month of casualties in our unit. And I had just attended my second funeral for multiple soldiers in a single day. So you know, you only have a small amount of time on the Internet, so I just kind of had to fire out everything that was brewing.

As far as writing in the military or writing as it relates to people that are conducting military kind of work, for me it's invaluable. And you sort of have this natural sense that nobody wants to hear about it because it's so nasty. But what you find out is that when you do share those experiences, now you learn about what you have in common with everyone else back home. And they learn from you. And it isn't that your weapon jammed; it's whether or not you want to shoot.

No one leaves the gate looking to kill or looking to die. No one wakes up in the morning and says, I sure hope blowing up a whole group of Iraqis goes well today. You may be worn out, hounded by hours on end of patrols, investigations, emergency responses, guard shifts; but you never wake up and think today's the day we'll kill a whole bunch of them. There's no kill them all, let God sort them out. That's for suckers and cowards, people afraid to delve into the melee and fight it out, to sort it out like soldiers.

BURBANK: John McCary has left the military. He's now getting a Master's degree in security studies from Georgetown. His letter is taken from the National Endowment for the Arts book, "Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan and the Home Front." To read more, visit our Web site, And our series is produced by Barrett Golding of

CHADWICK: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.