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The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraqby John F. Crawford
John Crawford, like many others, joined the National Guard for college money, not to fight a war. Just short of graduating, he found himself called to active duty to serve in Baghdad during the Iraq invasion. A view of the war not portrayed on national media, Crawford's battlefield memoir offers a personal yet unflinching portrayal of his Iraq experience. Here we witness the panic and excitement, the rage and the comradeship. Like Anthony Swafford's Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles, this will surely become a lasting account in the literature of war.
"The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell is an angry, unrevelatory book with an astonishing and heart-crushing final chapter. Crawford has not written a future classic account of the war in Iraq, but if his titular claim proves false, or if he's hammering away at the novel somewhere right now, he just might yet." Anna Godbersen, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
John Crawford joined the Florida National Guard to pay for his college tuition, willingly exchanging one weekend a month and two weeks a year for a free education. But in fall 2002, one semester short of graduating and newly married — in fact, on his honeymoon — he was called to active duty and sent to the front lines in Iraq.
"We crossed the berm the same day as the Army's Third Infantry Division, leading the invasion of Iraq. When the Third Division was sent home, our National Guard unit was passed around the armed forces like a virus: the 108th Airborne, First Marine Expeditionary, 101st Airborne, and finally the First Armored Division. They were all sent home, heroes of the war. Meanwhile, my unit stayed on, my soul rotting, our unit outlasted by no one in our tenure there."
Crawford and his unit spent months upon months patrolling the streets of Baghdad, occupying a hostile city. During the breaks between patrols, Crawford began writing nonfiction stories about what he and his fellow soldiers witnessed and experienced.
"The world hears war stories told by reporters and retired generals who keep extensive notebooks and journals. They carry pens as they walk, whereas I carry a machine gun. War stories are told to those who have not experienced the worst in man. And to the listener's ears they can sound like glory and heroism. People mutter phrases like, 'I don't know how you did it.' And they look at you wondering how you have changed, wondering if you have forever lost the moral dilemma associated with taking another person's life."
In a voice at once raw and immediate, Crawford's stories vividly chronicle the daily life of a young soldier in Iraq — the excitement, the horror, the anger, the tedium, the fear, the camaraderie. But all together, the stories gradually uncover something more: the transformation of a group of young men, innocents, into something entirely different.
"I have too many stories to tell, and if just a few of them get read, the ones that real people will understand, then maybe someone will know what we did here. It won't assuage the suffering inside me, inside all of us. It won't bring back anyone's son or brother or wife. It will simply make people aware, if only for one glimmering moment, of what war is really like."
Those stories became this book, a haunting and powerful, brutal but compellingly honest book — punctuated with both humor and heartbreak — that represents an important document revealing the actual experience of waging the War in Iraq, as well as the introduction of a literary voice forged in the most intense of circumstances.
"Having joined the National Guard for the tuition benefits, Crawford, like many of his contemporaries, never expected to do any heavy lifting. Early on, he admits his is 'the story of a group of college students... who wanted nothing to do with someone else's war.' But when his Florida National Guard unit was activated, he was shipped to Kuwait shortly before the invasion of Iraq. Armed with shoddy equipment, led by incompetent officers and finding release in the occasional indulgence in pharmaceuticals, Crawford cared little for the mission and less for the Iraqis. 'Mostly we were guarding gas stations and running patrols,' he explains. As for Iraqi civilians, 'I didn't give a shit what happened to any of them,' he confesses after inadvertently saving an Iraqi boy from a mob beating. Crawford's disdain grows with each extension of his tour, and he leaves Iraq broke, rudderless and embittered. Unfortunately, Crawford dresses up his story in strained metaphors and tired clichés such as 'truth engulfed me like a storm cloud' and 'you can never go back home.' Despite its pretensions, Crawford's story is not the classic foot soldier's memoir and should provide enough gristle to please military memoir fans. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"I picked up Crawford's book and with the first paragraph I was hooked." Thom Jones, author of Pugilist at Rest
"It's a heartbreaking and perversely beautiful book that should join Catch-22 and The Things They Carried as this generation's defining literary expression of men at war." James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard
"It's a major account of the Iraqi War, without pretense, without an axe to grind, and without complaint. A story about the heart of all wars — not politics, not principles, not money — your buddies. I was touched and overwhelmed." James Crumley, author of One to Count Cadence, The Last Good Kiss and The Right Madness
"This book blew me away. Powerful, haunting, hilarious, searingly honest, and shot through with all sorts of sorrow and rage and grief....[Y]ou've never read anything quite like this before." Gabe Hudson, author of Dear Mr. President
"Crawford's writing pulses with urgency, and, gloriously, his story of being an American soldier in Iraq is shattering and relentless. Most chillingly for us readers in our early twenties, Crawford's story universalizes the accidental way in which this war has affected us all." David Amsden, author of Important Things That Don't Matter
"[N]ewly married and just short of graduating, a young man who joined the Florida National Guard to pay for his college education finds himself in Iraq, where an embedded journalist encourages him to disseminate the stories he's writing about his experience." Library Journal
"A tremendous book...incredibly gripping and incredibly well-written..." Jon Stewart, The Daily Show
In a voice at once raw and immediate, the author chronicles his daily life as a young soldier in Iraq: the excitement, horror, anger, tedium, fear, camaraderie and the transformation of a group of young college students into something entirely different.
In the tradition of Michael Herr's Dispatches, a National Guardsman's account of the war in Iraq.
John Crawford joined the Florida National Guard to pay for his college tuition, willingly exchanging one weekend a month and two weeks a year for a free education. But in Autumn 2002, one semester short of graduating and newly married—in fact, on his honeymoon—he was called to active duty and sent to the front lines in Iraq.
Crawford and his unit spent months upon months patrolling the streets of Baghdad, occupying a hostile city. During the breaks between patrols, Crawford began recording what he and his fellow soldiers witnessed and experienced. Those stories became The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell—a haunting and powerful, compellingly honest book that imparts the on-the-ground reality of waging the war in Iraq, and marks as the introduction of a mighty literary voice forged in the most intense of circumstances.
About the Author
John Crawford was newly married and two credits away from completing a B.A. in anthropology at Florida State University when he was sent to Iraq. He thought he was finished with his soldiering days after completing a stint with the Army's famed 101st Airborne Division, and his National Guard service was little more than an afterthought. Crawford and his National Guard unit crossed into Iraq on the first day of the invasion. Baghdad fell more quickly than anyone had planned, and while most of the soldiers involved with the invasion were sent home, Crawford's National Guard unit stayed to patrol the city for more than a year. Crawford now lives in Florida, where he is completing his degree and writing. He no longer has any affiliation with the Army.
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