In His Own Words: The most terrifying thing I saw in Iraq
This is the text of speech delivered by Rob Dapice during Hopkinton’s Memorial Day Parade on Monday. Dapice, a Dartmouth College graduate, retired as an Army captain after serving in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 as an Infantry Company fire support officer with the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, part of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
Thank you everyone for coming.
This is my fourth time coming to this parade and the second time I’ve spoken here.
A few years ago, I talked about the importance of observing Memorial Day.
But in putting these comments together, it occurred to me that you folks are among the 5 or 10 percent of the population, I am guessing, who show up at some kind of Memorial Day observance. I think you understand pretty well that it’s important to remember the men and women who died in the wars that we chose.
So we’re here, and the question is, how? How should we honor them? What should their legacy be?
I wish I could tell you what they would want, but I don’t know. You never think to ask that question; no one ever asked me. You always plan to come home.
If we could ask them, their answers would be as different as if I asked every one of you. Some would want world peace, and some would want revenge.
The best I can do is to tell you what I would want. This may not be the same answer I would have given eight years ago – it probably isn’t. But it may be a clearer window into some of the damage caused by this particular war that I was involved in because after eight years, I have forgotten some things, and this is what I have not forgotten.
I was in Mosul and Al Anbar province and Baghdad in 2005 and 2006, and the most terrifying thing I saw was not some scene of graphic violence to which one becomes somewhat accustomed. The worst thing I saw was the breakdown of a society that used to function pretty well. Iraq was not a hopeless country; there were doctors and Ph.D.’s and people who spoke five languages and gave me history lessons on the street corners. But in 2005 it became a place where neighbors did not trust each other, and families fled from their homes and left their possessions behind in the middle of the night, concealing their identity and their religion, afraid for their lives.
An awful lot of kids in Iraq have no fathers today, some have no mothers, and to this day it eats away at me to think that all of this normalcy, our daily comings and goings, the civil interactions that we take for granted, can just evaporate. But it does not happen overnight, and it does not happen by accident. I believe we can prevent it.
Even though every war I know of has been accompanied by some kind of societal collapse, I don’t believe war is the cause of the collapse. War sets the conditions for society to collapse.
The cause is intolerance and hatred, and intolerance and hatred exist among us. Just a few weeks ago, we were reminded of it with the comments of the police commissioner in Wolfeboro. How many intolerant and hateful comments or acts do we hear and say nothing because it’s a friend saying it, because we don’t want to cause a stir?
Well, I’ve seen intolerance carried to its logical conclusion, and all I want to say to you today with these few minutes that I’ve got is: be tolerant, love your neighbor, be kind to one another. Include people who are different. Love everyone.
It sounds simple, and it may be unusual for a Memorial Day message, but it is the best thing that I think most of us can do to honor the men and women who gave their lives so that we could live in a better world.
Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your Memorial Day.
(Rob Dapice lives in Hopkinton with his wife and two young daughters, and works as a project manager with North Branch Construction in Concord. He is also working on his MBA at UNH.)