"Did that just happen? Did I just kill somebody?"

Oct 4, 2011

As a 19 year-old Army paratrooper, Jeremy Bowen was thrust into the bloody battle of Falluja, Iraq. In comments made as part of the University of Kentucky’s oral history project with student veterans, “From Combat to Kentucky”, Bowen recalls a night mission in an area nicknamed “Little Detroit” when he and his team shot two insurgents.

“I was useless at that point, as far as psychologically and, uh, and physically and stuff.  I pulled back and I kind of fell down on the ground and I look at my buddy I said, "Did that just happen?"  Uh, and he's like, I don't know, man, did, I don't know if that was real or not."  And I'm like, "Did I just kill somebody?"  And he said, "That’s what I'm wondering, did I just kill that person?"  I shot that guy in the, you know, in the head or whatever it was, and that was, it was like, instantly the, like, the worst flu symptoms you could ever imagine came on, on me.  I don't know about him, but I just felt so sick, and I couldn't, I was shaking real bad, I could barely move, and as an infantryman, uh, it's kind of ingrained into you, if you fire your weapon, you have to change, you have to put a new, uh, magazine which holds rounds, uh, into your weapon so you're ready to go for the next fight.  I totally forgot to even do that because, and my team leader had to tell me, put a new magazine in.  I'm like, I was just totally lost.

And then we, uh, loaded back on, up on the trucks, and, uh, the other mission, like, this all happened within probably two minutes, and the other mission was already over.  I mean, they went in, got who they had to have, and they were out by that point.  And we moved on to the next objective, and we were supposed to do something at that point, I don't remember what it was, but I told my team leader, I said, "I can't do, can you just leave me here at the truck, because it would probably be more dangerous for us as a team for me to go out there than it would be, um, for me to stay here?"  So, he said, "Just stay here at the truck."  Um, gave me an area to kind of overwatch, and that's where I stayed.  And it was very weird to talk about your first--because that was all of our first combat.  Then there was another couple guys that got shot somehow, and-or they were shot, anyway.  And, uh, they, uh, I think what really hit home, a couple weeks later, uh, or maybe a week later, one of my other friends was on gate guard and, uh, out front, you know, searching vehicles as they were coming in and out.  And, um, he said that they brought the bodies, the bodies of the two that we killed, they brought them to the base.  And, um, come to find out one of 'em was a boy, like, it was a father and son, and one of 'em was pretty young.  Um, I'm not sure.  I think they said he was fourteen or something.  Coming from somebody who, at that time, was, uh, at that time I was nineteen, a fourteen year-old boy was still way too young to die.  Uh, well, shoot, anybody was, I don't know, just, I don't know what to say about that.  That was just, that was something that was hard to swallow.  Um, and I think the guy who told me was bothered by it because he had kids and stuff, and I don't he meant for it to have the effect that it did on me, but that was, it really bothered me.”  

Today Jeremy Bowen is far from the horror of war and Fallujah.  He’s a graduate student at the University of Kentucky, working on a degree in social work with an emphasis on alcohol and substance abuse.