Ramon Renteria / El Paso Times – 2006-11-22 07:57:04
Accusations from Iraq Tear Up One Vietnam Vet
Ramon Renteria / El Paso Times
TEXAS (November 19, 2006) — Jake Brisbin never expected to be torn up again by war.
“I love the US Marine Corps, would die for it and almost did,” he said. “The Marine Corps is one of the finest things that ever happened to this country.”
Brisbin, 58, the executive director of the Rio Grande Council of Governments, has spent his life in and out of hospitals, healing and having himself reconstructed. He was severely wounded and almost killed in South Vietnam as a 19-year-old Marine lance corporal fighting in the 1968 Tet offensive.
Lately, Brisbin has become agitated over how the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas of El Paso has been snared and seemingly overwhelmed by a frenzy of national media looking for another sensational story.
Terrazas was killed a year ago today — Nov. 19, 2005 — by a roadside bomb while driving a Humvee on patrol through Haditha, Iraq. The military is investigating whether his unit killed 24 civilians, including women and children, in retaliation, and whether the Marine Corps chain of command lied to cover up the incident.
Brisbin spent a year and half in military hospitals, had 29 operations and spent another year in hospitals getting additional treatment for his wounds.
Now, he’s dealing with the emotional baggage of another war, watching from the sidelines as the Terrazas family has tried to explain its grief and tried to answer media questions about Miguel Terrazas’ military buddies and their motives, friends under the cloud of a potentially huge national scandal.
“As an ex-Marine, I hurt for the family. The family deserves the dignity of coping with their loss. All they have is a memory of a son,” Brisbin said.
CNN, Time magazine, ABC News, CBS News and regional news outlets have interrogated the Terrazas family in recent months about the incident.
Brisbin said he believes Miguel’s father, Martin, still dealing with his grief and that of his other children, “shouldn’t have to deal with the possibility that some Marines that were associated with his son, in a fit of anger or whatever may have motivated them, may have perpetrated terrible acts on the people they thought were responsible.”
Brisbin is convinced many gray areas exist in war, situations that can cause ordinary people to do things they normally wouldn’t do and maybe shouldn’t do.
“The press seldom discusses the complicated thing of being a combat Marine in a time of war, under great duress, and in which split-second decisions are made and other people’s lives and yours depend on it,” Brisbin said. “I’m not an apologist but … surely, as politically correct as the military is today, they have to be teaching some form of ethics in these procedures.”
Brisbin said he never witnessed misconduct or atrocities in South Vietnam but swears that he or any other noncommissioned officer in his outfit would have stopped it.
“It’s not war when you shoot women and babies,” Brisbin said. “I fully believe that if something clicked in that group of young men (in Haditha) and they went on some blood-lust revenge with no clear motive other than just revenge or something like that, those men deserve punishment. There are no excuses for that.”
Brisbin worries the Haditha incident, already compared to the My Lai massacre in which US troops killed 500 civilians in South Vietnam, may tarnish the Marine Corps for a long time and cause politicians and others to debate whether the elite fighting force is necessary.
“We still need cold, clear-eyed killers when the time comes to implement our policy,” Brisbin said. “But along with the responsibility of being a warrior comes the responsibility of being an intellectual warrior, making rational decisions and accepting the responsibility to handle yourself ethically and morally.”
Ramón Rentería may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6146.
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