Happy Birthday

My mother and me at the Acropolis in Greece. June 23, 1964.
My mother and me at the Acropolis in Greece. June 23, 1964.

My mother would have turned 82 today. I would have picked up the phone and called her. 011-91-33-2247-6600.

I would have said: Ma! Happy Birthday. I would have asked her what she was doing to celebrate.

She would have said that my pishi (aunt) was coming over for lunch. Nothing special was planned.

I wold have asked about what else was going on. She would have given me family updates — she kept in touch with everyone. She was the glue. She would have caught me up with gossip about the neighbors in our flat building.

She would have hurried through the conversation to get to the most important part. When will you come to Kolkata?

I would have said: In mid-September, Ma. I will be there soon.

I would have imagined her smile. She would have told me how she couldn’t wait to see me.

I will get on a plane to go home next week but she won’t be there waiting for me.

Happy Birthday, beautiful Ma. I miss you every waking moment.

Chaplain Turner’s War

Chaplain Darren Turner counsels a soldier at a combat outpost
in Arab Jabour, March, 2008.
Photo by Curtis Compton/AJC
Four years ago, I spent time with an Army chaplain in Iraq because I wanted to write about how war affected American soldiers. His name is Darren Turner. He had only been a chaplain for a few months before he headed to Baghdad.
I discovered through him a world different than mine. In the midst of war, I learned about faith, specifically Christianity, and how it was vital to so many of Turner’s men in the 3rd Infantry Division.
Their battalion was part of the surge and had seen a lot of bad stuff in searing summer months and the rugged terrain of Arab Jabour. Turner had grown weary form memorializing so many of his men.
I met Turner at Fort Stewart, flew up with him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where Spc. David Battle was struggling for life. He had lost three limbs in a bombing and Turner recently told me he was the most injured soldier at the time.
A few weeks later, photographer Curtis Compton and I flew to Iraq. My plan was simply to follow Turner around and document everything he did. I did not know how the story would turn out. Every day brought a new tragedy, a new triumph.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the story in June, 2008. Now it is out as a digital book. http://www.amazon.com/Chaplain-Turners-War-ebook/dp/B007XULHX4/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335542515&sr=1-1

The publisher thought it was as relevant as it was when it was written, now that the Iraq war has come to a close for America and in many places, it was has been swept under the rug, almost as though it never happened.
But it did happen. For more than eight long years. It changed lives here – and there – in the most disturbing ways.
Nearly 4,500 American troops died in the Iraq war. More than 30,000 others were physically wounded. Countless others live with scars that can’t be seen.
I want people to read this story and think about the costs borne by their fellow citizens. I want them to know that life will never be the same again for so many of them.
Darren and Heather Turner in Clarkesville, Kentucky, 
Feb. 2012. Turner tried to help his soldiers save their marriages 
but ran into trouble in his own.
A big thanks to Jan Winburn, who edited this story for the AJC – with a broken left arm to boot.
To Valerie Boyd, who had the wisdom to get me on this project and push it as a digital book.
Of course, to Agate Publishers for taking this on.
And to Darren Turner. I was glad to see you again this year and even more glad to know that you are happy again.