copyright © 2003 Todd Ristau

A picture tells a thousand words

By Todd Ristau

(Lights up to reveal a US Marine standing center stage wearing desert camouflage, combat boots, and helmet with goggles .  He holds an unfolded American flag in his hand.)

When we got there it wasn't really what any of us expected.  We thought it was gonna be a cake-walk.  We were told they were gonna throw down weapons and surrender by the hundreds.  The fighting in Umm Qasr was a hell of a lot harder than anybody told us it was gonna be.  They were hitting us with machine gun fire and anti-tank rockets for nearly two hours.  It wasn't a cake-walk, those fuckers were dug in and firing mortars at us.  We had to land nearly a dozen copters on this huge parking lot inside the perimeter fence, and called up tanks and artillery fire to clear a path for the reinforcements.

Moving was slow because the port area is huge and there were more places for Iraqi troops to hide than you'd want to think about.  It wasn't a cake-walk.  We had to fight, and fight hard to liberate that city.   We killed a hell of a lot of those bastards.

One of our Marines was slightly injured by broken glass.

I'm not supposed to talk about Iraqi casualties, not specific numbers.  But whatever it took it was worth it, because this is the major sea port and if we were gonna bring in humanitarian aid, well, it's a no-brainer you gotta have the largest commercial sea port under control.

And we did it.  We came, we saw, we kicked some ass.  I had our company flag and when we had the city occupied, I took down Saddam's flag and raised ours.  Everybody was whooping and cheering and the press was taking all kinds of pictures.  Of me.  And my flag.

I was gonna be a symbol of victory.  I was like the Iwo Jima flag raising.  I was like those Russian   bastards raising the flag over Berlin at the end of WW2.  I was gonna be in the history books.  I was the symbol of everything we had just fought for, were going to fight for, and what we were trying to show those assholes who fucked us on September 11th.


And I was more proud of myself, my country, and the Marine Corps than I have ever been in 27 years of life.  I was thinking while I hauled it up the pole, "Mom is gonna see this on every newspaper in the world-her son. Her son is gonna be on the TV."

And then they told me to take it down.

I was ordered to take down the American Flag.  My Captain told me I was an embarrassment to the  nation, my unit, and my uniform.

What the fuck is that about?

My fucking captain is screaming at me-"What the fuck are you doing Marine?"

He says, "We're here to liberate the Iraqi People, we're not here to conquer their country."

So he made me put the Iraqi flag back up.

What does that say?

I'm asking you-what does that say?

After everything that's happened, after everything they've told us about why we're here, how am I   supposed to be as proud of raising an Iraqi flag as I was of the one I'm supposed to be fighting for. 

I'm here because I'm protecting America from Terrorism, eliminating Weapons of Mass Destruction before they get used on American cities, and American citizens.  I'm not sure how ready I am to die for any flag but the one they're telling me we have to be afraid to display here.

I never questioned anything they told us before…they told me to jump and I didn't waste time asking how high….but, now….I have no idea what my role in history is going to be.

They took that away from me, and they took away my certainty, and now I have no idea what we're doing here.

And I don't like how fast that change happened.

If it happened to me….it could happen to anybody.

(Fade out.)


("A Picture Paints a Thousand Words" debuted at Charlottesville No Shame on May 2nd, 2003)


 (Author's note:  The details of this piece were taken from actual newspaper accounts from the day Umm Qasar was taken, in particular the line about the marine being cut by glass.  See "Marines Raise US Flag Over Iraqi Port, by Adrian Croft, Rueters, March 21, 2003.  To see the article on the web:


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