He used irreverence as a balm: When he met with troops in a chapel after a suicide bomb intended for them instead struck a group of Iraqi schoolgirls, he punctuated his remarks with a four-letter word. God, he insisted, surely wouldn’t mind him cussing in a religious sanctuary, all things considered. Then he offered comfort.
“It IS horrible,” McNabb quotes him as saying. “’There are bad guys out there ... ‘You’re brave soldiers. You’re being asked to do a job no one could do.”’
But Linnerooth wasn’t just dealing with emotional trauma. He was in the same complex as the busy Riva Ridge Troop Medical Clinic. When mass casualties arrived, he was there squeezing IV bags, handling bandages.
Later on, talking with family, he’d hint of the horror in sketchy details, describing how a blocked drain once left the soldiers ankle-deep in blood, or the agony of Iraqi kids dying slowly.
Linnerooth did elaborate in one essay. In words both graphic and incredibly tender, he described a female soldier brought in with mortal wounds. Her Humvee, while on a rescue mission, had been struck by an armor-penetrating explosive.
“I stood at her head and considered her hair, for Christsakes!” he wrote. “The blast had mussed her hair. Removed her foot, cleaved her abdomen, but mussed her hair. For whatever reason I looked at it and longed to smooth it back from her forehead. Like I do for my children. It was reddish-blond, curly, almost kinky, and in disarray. I looked around me to see if anyone would notice this gesture, if anyone would mind. Hell, I don’t know what to do in an abattoir of human suffering, it’s not my job. I deal with easy things, like the paranoid, the personality disordered, and those without hope. All I wanted to do was smooth her hair, perhaps compose her for the next stage of her journey. But I never did it, and regret it to this day.”