On Watching a Friend Die in Combat

Reflections for Memorial Day Weekend

Benjamin Sledge
9 min readMay 27, 2022


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I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.
— William Tecumseh Sherman

On February 19, 2007, Sergeant First Class Paul “Gonzo” Gonzalez and Corporal Kit McVay left Camp Corregidor under the cover of night to participate in one of the most violent battles of the Iraq War.

Despite having a Hispanic last name, Paul Gonzalez was an Irish American with pasty white skin and dark brown hair. What made him most intimidating was his steel resolve and iron jaw; you could actively watch his muscles flex when he was irritated. Kit McVay, however, was a 19-year old kid with sandy brown hair and a quiet demeanor.

The point of the operation was to retake the southeastern quarter of Ramadi, Iraq which had been a hotbed of insurgent activity throughout the infamous Battle of Ramadi. Things had become so hostile that an area named the Eagle’s Nest had water spraying into the air for two years because no one could get close enough to fix the damaged water main. The region almost worked like a demarcation zone, and American soldiers dared not venture past a certain point to fix the leak, as they’d be shot by snipers.

Ironically, Senator John McCain and a news crew from CNN had stopped near Eagle’s Nest a month earlier to cover the Anbar Awakening and “beautification” projects that the command staff had commissioned.

The beautification projects were a major point of contention for Gonzo, McVay, and our team. We openly defied the orders given by the 3rd Infantry Division which had control of the battle-space, which led to open animosity. We had informed the command that water, sewage, and electricity were needed to quell the ongoing rebellion and establish progress. They, however, wanted to use taxpayer dollars to put artwork on concrete barriers, build soccer fields, and paint the Ramadi water tower like a soccer ball — all things that looked good on officer reports…



Benjamin Sledge

Multi-award winning author | Combat wounded veteran | Mental health specialist | Former geopolitical intel | Graphic designer | https://benjaminsledge.com