From Baghdad, With Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava

From Baghdad, With Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava

4.5 94
by Jay Kopelman, Melinda Roth

View All Available Formats & Editions

When Marines enter an abandoned house in Fallujah, Iraq, and hear a suspicious noise, they clench their weapons, edge around the corner, and prepare to open fire. What they find during the U.S -led attack on the "most dangerous city on Earth," however, is not an insurgent bent on revenge, but a tiny puppy left behind when most of the city’s population fled


When Marines enter an abandoned house in Fallujah, Iraq, and hear a suspicious noise, they clench their weapons, edge around the corner, and prepare to open fire. What they find during the U.S -led attack on the "most dangerous city on Earth," however, is not an insurgent bent on revenge, but a tiny puppy left behind when most of the city’s population fled before the bombing. Despite military law that forbids the keeping of pets, the Marines de-flea the pup with kerosene, de-worm him with chewing tobacco, and fill him up on Meals Ready to Eat.Thus begins the dramatic rescue attempt of a dog named Lava and Lava’s rescue of at least one Marine, Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman, from the emotional ravages of war. From hardened Marines to war-time journalists to endangered Iraqi citizens, From Baghdad, With Love tells an unforgettable true story of an unlikely band of heroes who learn unexpected lessons about life, death, and war from a mangy little flea-ridden refugee.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With humor and heart, Kopelman relates how, in the midst of battle in Fallujah, Iraq, his Marine battalion — the "Lava Dogs" — saves a starving mutt. Armed with the fighting spirit of the Marines who adopt him, spunky Lava supplies unconditional love, morale boosts, and a great read."—New York Post“Sure to please dog-lovers.” - Kirkus Reviews“More than a canine escape tale, this is also the story of how Lava changed Kopelman and affected his feelings about the war.”—San Diego Magazine“ One of a handful of heartwarming tales to emerge from the war in Iraq.”—USA Today“[The Marines] were offered a small, furry ray of hope when they stumbled upon a five-week-old pup that was left behind after the battle of Fallujah. A war memoir with a twist, From Baghdad with Love is the tender story of how a dog named Lava captured the hearts of a bunch of war-hardened Marines and how they banded together to bring him home to America.”—Pages (San Diego) “The book deals honestly with the hard question asked by many people about why so much time, energy and money was spent on a dog when there are so many people in need. A fascinating look at the day-to-day life of soldiers fighting for their country, who discover a little bit of hope and love in a dismal time and place.”— "The story of how Kopelman got this puppy out of Iraq was so different from anything I have read anywhere about the war in Iraq that I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish." — "Love and hope often arrive in the strangest places and in the strangest ways."— "Jarhead with animals."—Palm Beach “You will laugh, smile, cry, and want to keep turning the page.”— "Kopelman orchestrated a real-life canine escape from Iraq worthy of any thriller novel." —Petwarmers "What happens next makes for an incredible tale that, say our sources, you can’t put down until the last page." ASPCA newsletter
Publishers Weekly
The news from Iraq keeps getting grimmer, but Iraq veteran Kopelman and journalist Roth (The Man Who Talks to Dogs) tell a tale of radiant joy about Kopelman's efforts to safely transport Lava, the stray dog his Marine unit found in the wreckage of Fallujah, back to the U.S. Though the premise sounds cloying, Kopelman and Roth eschew sentimentality. They don't hesitate to detail the corruption of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S. military bureaucracy or the extreme hardships of the Iraqi people. Kopelman's nagging qualms about keeping the dog in violation of military orders throw into relief his efforts to repress his guilt over working so hard to save a dog amid so much human suffering. Most bracing are the frank descriptions of the war's moral vacuum, where terrified men and women like the dogs that Iraqi insurgents strap with bombs and send charging into the enemy are driven to commit unspeakable acts they cannot possibly understand. The story of Lava's journey out of Iraq is exciting, but it's to Kopelman and Roth's credit that it's not nearly as harrowing as the story of what the dog left behind. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Marine deployed in Iraq becomes mush in the presence of a puppy and devotes the remainder of his tour to trying to ship the charismatic canine home. Securing an abandoned building during the first week of the U.S. invasion of Fallujah, the First Battalion, Third Marines, heard a strange noise. Turning the corner, the Lava Dogs (their training moniker) discovered a "ball of fur not much bigger than a grenade." Named in honor of the battalion, the three-week-old puppy was taken back to the compound, de-wormed with chewing tobacco, washed in kerosene and fed MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). The Marines were in direct violation of General Order 1-A, which forbids pets, and they had another serious problem: Independent contractors were shooting all abandoned, non-military dogs. Unwilling to destroy Lava, Kopelman decided to violate the order and smuggle the puppy out of Iraq. With only a few weeks left on his third tour of duty, he worked fast, asking favors from local Seabees (who built the rowdy pup a crate), NPR correspondent Anne Garrels (who provided babysitting) and the Iams pet food company (which helped arrange exit transport). The narrative, which covers a six-month period, feels rushed, thanks in part to Kopelman's breathless prose: "I call friends and family back in the States and tell them about Lava and ask for help. . . . See, they're all scared that if I don't get killed, I'll lose my mind in Iraq. . . . Like, when I call one of my best buddies back in San Diego . . ." Fortunately, the group effort produces a happy ending, and Lava and Kopelman now enjoy the good life in Southern California. Not a masterpiece of wartime literature, but sure to please dog-lovers.

Product Details

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Prologue“So he sent the man out; and at the east of the Garden of Eden he put winged ones and a flaming sword turning every way to keep the way to the tree of life.”Genesis 3:24In an abandoned house in the northeast section of Fallujah, members of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines called the “Lava Dogs” froze when they heard a series of clicks coming from the last un-checked room of the compound. Grenade pins? Most of the military deaths in Fallujah during the first week of the U.S. invasion happened inside buildings like this where insurgents hid in upper rooms and threw grenades down at the Marines as they moved upwards. There were a lot of head and face injuries, and while the Lava Dogs considered themselves some of the toughest Marines around — they named themselves out of respect for the jagged pumice they trained on back in Hawaii — just being a Lava Dog didn't shield you from a grenade’s fancy special effects. Being careful did. Being focused did. Having your weapon locked and loaded when you inched around every corner did.Click. Click. Click….Click If a grenade did detach your face from your skull, at least you checked out in the GPS coordinate closest to Heaven, not that you'd have adequate excuses prepared once you got there, because lines between good and evil here in the battle zone required more than reading glasses to see. But Iraq was considered by most biblical archeologists to be the location of the Garden of Eden — God’s only hard copy of Heaven, his Paradise on Earth – and whether Abraham, Mohammad or Jesus called your cadence, it’s where it officially all started and where it officially all went bad.Good marketing potential for the region at first though, because it trademarked the birthplace of Abraham, the Tower of Babel and the construction of Babylon in addition to agriculture, writing, the wheel, the zodiac, legal theory, bureaucracy and urbanization. From the beginning, everyone wanted a piece of the place which went from the Mesopotamians to the Sumerians to the Akkadians to the Empire of Ur to the Babylonians to the Assyrians to the Persians to the Greeks to the Arabs to the Mongols to the Turks to the British. None of these were polite handovers either. By the time Saddam Hussein got to the land of milk and honey, it had been captured, pillaged, beaten and raped by so many cultures over such a long period of time, there was little left except a whole lot of desert covering a whole lot of oil. That, and claims by locals living near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that the Garden of Eden and its Tree of Life stood in the middle of their very town. They built a wall around the area, constructed the Garden of Eden Hotel and tourism flourished for a short while. Then the Americans came, and because the folks living in the area supported the newest invasion, Hussein drained all of their water. Soon the Tree of Life died, members of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq took over the Garden of Eden Hotel and “Down With Americans” was painted all over the walls of Paradise.Clickclickclickclick.Maybe timed explosives.If this country was Paradise, then the Marines weren't taking any bets on Hell. Outside the building they searched, gun ships prowled the skies looking for hiding insurgents as pockmarked Humvees patrolled what was left of the streets. Every car in the city was targeted because of bomb risks. Every loose wire was suspect. Every building was searched, and “Jihad, Jihad, Jihad” plastered every wall. Throughout the first days of the invasion of Fallujah, the Marines discovered weapons caches, suicide vests and large amounts of heroin, speed, and cocaine apparently used to bolster suicide bombers’ courage. They found dead bodies of fighters from Chechnya, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. They walked into human slaughterhouses with hooks hanging from the ceilings, black masks, knives, bloody straw mats and videos of beheadings. They freed emaciated prisoners shackled and insane with fear.Fallujah, near the center of where it all began, was now a city cordoned off from the rest of the world, inhabited only by invisible snipers and stray dogs feasting on the dead.Click. Snuffle. Snuffle. Click.The Lava Dogs tightened their jaws and clenched their weapons as they ran through the rules in their heads: cover danger areas, stay low, move stealthily, be prepared to adapt and eliminate threats.Snuffle. Clickclickclick. Snufflesnuffle.An insurgent strapping a bomb to his chest? They should have prepped the room first with a grenade, tossed it in and just let it do all the dirty work. Instead they backed up to the walls on either side of the doorway and positioned their weapons to fire. They thrust the guns around the corner, squared off and zeroed in on the clicks as their target rushed to the other side of the room. “Holy shit.”He turned at the sound of their voices and stared at them. “What the hell? ”He cocked his head trying to interpret their intent rather than their words.“You gotta be kidding.”Then he yipped, wagged his tail and clicked his toenails on the floor as he pranced up and down in place, happy it seemed someone found him at last. ***Part I “In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.”Genesis 3:17 Chapter OneI heard someone say once that guilty people live violent lives. At the time, I didn't really get it, but if what they meant was the way guilt waits in ambush, traps your well-trained sense of control and then tortures you into confessions you'd just as soon not make, I now understand.I mean, I guess it’s guilt. That’s one part of my confession. Maybe it’s just what the therapist calls post-traumatic stress, even though I've only been home for a week, or maybe some chemical imbalance brought on recently by any number of issues or maybe just residue from the sleeping pills still floating through my blood stream, but hell, what else besides guilt has the capacity to beach land so much fear? Anxiety, maybe. Anxiety assumes less culpability, implies less of an offense, offers more of an excuse. Or compulsiveness. Along with nightmares, flashbacks, moodiness, alcoholism and depression, they said something about a compulsive disorder that could send your brain cells scurrying into all sorts of witless directions, and between checking incoming email, praying for the phone to ring and counting the paces between one wall and the next, it seems entirely plausible. But then, so did getting Lava out of Iraq in the first place, and how impeachable was that offense after Allah, Jehovah, Jesus, Lady Luck and Santa Clause made it pretty clear it wasn't on their list of things to do this year? I check the email again. Nothing. It’s the middle of the day there in Baghdad, the middle of the night here in California and no time in particular everywhere else in between. Something must have gone wrong.I mean, what else besides guilt would drive a man to do what I did back there? Obsession, perhaps, but that implies a lifetime of prescription slips from the therapist and besides, not everyone involved in the rescue – the Marines, the journalists, the Iraqis, the personal security guys — could be crazy. Maybe they could. Nothing seems right-side-up anymore and hasn't for some time now. I think the pacing is what’s getting to me. The back-and-forth unearths all kinds of radioactive crap I don't want hanging around. Like a lot of faces. Weird, dreamy faces. Faces of stray dogs I fed at the Syrian border. Faces of embedded journalists in Fallujah with terror dripping down them like sweat. Faces of Iraqis smashed into the street like ripe banana meat under your boot and the question of whether a face is really a face if there’s no one home behind it. Mostly, though, faces of people who risked their lives to try and help save Lava. They bother me the most, and that’s the second part of the confession. I think we all let the mangy, little flea-bitten refugee get to us – as if compassion was some sinister germ intent on infection – and now that we've all been bitten by the contagion, now that it comes down to the end, now that all other roads of escape are closed for good, I feel responsible to them to make sure Lava gets out alive. Maybe the little shit is dead already. Or maybe they didn't make it through and he’s now lost on the streets of Baghdad wondering where everybody went. There were so many times when I figured the best thing for the little guy was to just shoot him in the head – yeah, yeah, I know how that sounds – but really, I mean I couldn't stand the thought of him joining the other stray dogs who hobbled around on three legs looking for bodies to eat. I remember after the initial bombing in Fallujah, there were dead Iraqis all over the place and seeing dogs feasting on the remains and thinking this must be the only place on Earth where the dead nourished the living and how screwed up that seemed. Now I pray that if Lava doesn't make it through, he'll find a body somewhere in Baghdad to keep him alive for just one more day.Which brings me to the third part of the confession: No matter how bad things get, it’s still better to be alive. And I want Lava to stay alive. I want to know he’s breathing and leaping after dust balls and chasing imaginary enemies in his sleep. I want him to be alive, because then there’s still hope that he'll make it here to California and get to be an American dog who runs on the beach and chases the mailman instead of strangers with guns. I want him to be alive almost more than anything I can think of.The fourth part of the confession is that when the phone finally rings, I don't want to answer it. I sit there and stare at the thing as if it’s a live RPG that just landed in the room. So this is fear.The last part of the confession is that when I do pick up the receiver and listen to the news, I break down and cry for the second time in my adult life.

Meet the Author

Jay Kopelman is a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps; he was last stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. A competitive bicyclist, Jay lives in La Jolla, California, with his wife, Pam Godde, stepson, their two dogs, Lava and Koda, and Cheddar the cat. Both Jay and his wife, an anthropologist, are avid surfers. They're expecting their second child in January 2007. Melinda Roth works for a political lobbyist in Chicago, where she lives with her family.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

From Baghdad, with Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 90 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I cant say enough about this book. It is meant to be read not only by animal lovers but everyone in general. Authors givr you an insight to a real war....not the small selective elements that we are fed by the media. I applaud all the people who took part in rescuing Lava. There arent any proper words to describe the kind of love one receives from a dog....a dog who cant speak...yet is capable to showing you the ultimate loyal pure love. I highly recommend this book to everyone. As for you Lava....what a lucky flea infested mutt you are...not only you have a wondergul family you received what so many fight for.....freedom! Happy life Lava
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book. I applaud Col. Kopelman for all he did to bring Lava home from Iraq.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
awesome book even in the midst of a cruel & unwarranted war, this story of love for a dog is heartwarming.
julie443 More than 1 year ago
I am usually a crime, mystery, and high action lover, so I was worried that this would be too "cute" for my liking. I quickly realized that I could not put this book down! It is suspenseful and it is the ONLY book I have ever wanted to read twice! You must read it!
auntbah More than 1 year ago
Once you pick it up you won't want to put it down until you're finished.
It is even more endearing because it is a true story. You are captivated and want to help Lava.
LavaDog More than 1 year ago
I still can't believe this guy stole my dog while I was on patrol. Use to feed him cans of Spam to fatten him up. He use to sleep next to me on top of the roof. We actually found him in a gutter in a four inch pipe under the driveway ramp.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once I picked up From Baghdad, With Love, and started reading, I could not put it down. It is hands down one of the best books I have ever read. I must admit that some parts of the book were boring, and I didn’t quite understand how they fit into the story, but once I kept reading the better it got. I love how the author Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman writes about his journey on getting Lava to the United States. But it also teaches the reader facts about the war in Iraq and what was happening where he was stationed. The book teaches a great lesson, which is that you always have to keep trying, no matter what happened before. Honestly, I started to stop believing that Lava would ever get to go to Kopelman’s home in California. There were so many failed attempts to getting Lava to the United States, but by having Jon Van Zante there to keep encouraging them they were able to get Lava safely to the United States. It killed me to read the parts when Kopelman thought about how Lava would die; I wanted to scream “I KNOW HE’S ALIVE. THE BACK OF THE BOOK SAYS THAT KOPELMAN LIVES WITH LAVA IN CALIFORNIA! JUST GET TO THE HAPPY PART ALREADY!” Finding Lava gives Kopelman and all the other Marines that help take care of the puppy hope to keep moving forward and that it will get better. I think that high schools would be most likely to read this book because they have some knowledge about what was going on in Iraq during the war. Even if they do not know much about the war, the book helps describe it. I know it has helped me understand what was going on in Iraq from the point of view from a soldier instead of the press. I don’t think younger kids should read this book because there is a strong language usage.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book From Baghdad With Love is an amazing and heartwarming story. Once I heard that the book was about a dog I knew I wanted to read it. I am one of the biggest dog lovers there is so this book was right up my alley. This book combines a great war memoir and a dog story all in one, making this one of my favorites. It was about a Marine named Jay Kopelman and his team found an Iraqi puppy which they would name Lava. They all grew much attached and knew they had to get him to the United States. There were many bumps in the road along the way. There were many organizations that joined the cause to get Lava to the United States, which showed the humanity of people supporting the troops, especially this Marine. I loved how everyone worked together and never gave up in the end. Another reason why I like this book because it was real and raw and Jay Kopelman didn’t hold back with any of his descriptions. Some parts of the book explained disturbing pictures at times but, it showed me exactly what the U.S soldiers see and experience every day. It also showed LT. Kopelman’s friendship unfold from beginning to end and how Lava became such a big part in his life. I got to see Lava grow up and affect so many others lives and how he helped so many Marines forget just for a second that they were at war and could possibly never come home. I wouldn’t recommend this to littler kids because of the descriptions, but I think this is a great book for teenagers or adults. All the way through the book I never wanted to put it down. Each chapter captivates you and forces your mind to think all of the possibilities like whether Lava would make it in the end or not. I read the book in 3 days and enjoyed every bit of it. I am so happy that I got to read this truly endearing dog story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was a little afraid to read this book because I am so softhearted about any animal (especially dogs) being hurt in any way. However this book was wonderful so if you are like I am and are cautious about reading it go ahead buy it and enjoy!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lauren_Noel_Bashore More than 1 year ago
My mama's boyfriend, Kenneth Licklider, owner of Vohne Liche Kennels, told me to read this and I had no clue he had such an amazing deal with this story even though his part is so little. Great story and I even met the author. Loved it. (:
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book can open so many eyes on what realy goes on in a war, and what our men and women that are in the service really have to deal with everyday that they are in the Middle East. Their mind set is not of love, which can be understandable, but there has to be an outlet for the emotions to come through. If more people realized that, there would be more help for the service men and women that come home. The one thing that kept the author going was this puppy who made him laugh, cry, and do everything possible to bring the dog home so that he could have a better life and return that love to someone who saved him, even though it was against regulations. Well done Mr. Kopelman, and thank you for your service to our country. God bless you today and always.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an amazing story for any animal lover. From giggles of delight, to edge of your seat anxiety this book will pull you into the life as person by person gets involved with saving this pup.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Because this book is written by the soldier, it lacks a lot of "touchy feely" detail. But through his writing he includes a lot of fact about the war and about other caught up in the war and you learn how even a war-hardened soldier can fall in love with a little fur-ball. And how everyone else helps him because of this!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a touching story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I definately would read more books by this author. Fantastic entertaining and kept me on the edge of my seat. Could not put the book (Nookcolor Tablet that is) down. Emotionally rewarding and very factually informative. I think this would be a movie I would pay to go see at the theatre......come on Hollywood. Shay Radeschi/Florida
k_j_9_7 More than 1 year ago
The story was really touching. I didn't like the frequent use of swear words and how many sentences were ended with "right?". Other than that, it was very good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago